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Domestic Violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Bringing the Issue to the UN

UPR cycle
Illustration of the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Process from The Advocates’ resource Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A Step-by-step Guide to Human Rights Fact-finding, Documentation, and Advocacy

The UN Human Rights Council provides opportunities for non-governmental organizations to pursue human rights advocacy at the UN level through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), a process for reviewing the human rights records of States. Before the start of a particular country’s review, non-governmental organizations can submit a “stakeholder report” to the Council about the overall human rights situation or focusing on a specific issue in the country, relying on desk research and firsthand information.

Reporting on domestic violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina

As an International Justice intern with The Advocates for Human Rights, I had the opportunity to work on the organization’s UPR stakeholder report about domestic violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In my research, I focused on understanding victims’ experiences with key institutions that provide support for victims of domestic violence, such as centers for social work, courts, police, and safe houses. I found out that victims lack access to resources due to insufficient funding, poor multi-sectoral collaboration, and inadequate responses from some of the key actors mentioned above.

Based on this research, I assisted with compiling a report that The Advocates and our local partner Ženski Centar Trebinje submitted to the Human Right Council in March 2019 for the UPR of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which will take place in November 2019. Apart from shedding light on the issues that victims of domestic violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina face, our report put forth recommendations for the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to improve its responses to domestic violence. You may find the report here.

A meaningful way to get involved with issues in my home country

Being from Bosnia and Herzegovina, I really appreciated the opportunity to get involved with this report. As much as I am grateful for my education in the United States, I wish that I could get physically involved with social movements and activism in my home country. While I was working on this report, my city held a protest because the Center for Social Work did not adequately respond to a domestic violence case perpetrated by a father against his daughters. Their mother issued a plea via Facebook, sharing how unsupported she felt by the institutions whose sole responsibility was to protect her daughters. Hearing her story made it even more important to engage with the issue of domestic violence.

Although I was not able to protest, I could at least voice her concerns in our report. By translating her story and bringing it to a space devoted to human rights, I made it possible for the relevant international actors to hear her story. To me, The Advocates’ work implies carrying messages from the local actors to international institutions, bridging the physical distance between the two, overcoming language barriers if there are any, and navigating the bureaucratic nature of international institutions.

Looking forward

While I cannot guarantee that delivering her message will have an impact on the case, nor that this report will eliminate domestic violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina overnight, I recognize that advocacy at the UN, as a well-established mechanism, is a useful first step. It serves as a platform to raise awareness about issues and put pressure on government officials to implement the suggested solutions. Based on the recommendations from the 2014 UPR cycle Bosnia and Herzegovina established free legal aid clinics, but yet has to implement many more recommendations.

As part of the UPR process, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s government delegation and UN member countries will engage in an interactive dialogue this November. Often, countries raise questions and suggest solutions based on stakeholder reports. I hope that they will voice the concerns that we included in the report and make a formal expectation for the Government of Bosnia and Herzegovina to implement our recommendations, as important steps toward the elimination of domestic violence.

By Ana Gvozdić, a rising junior at Macalester College studying Political Science and Environmental Studies.  She was a spring 2019 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

To learn more about advocacy, check out The Advocates’ manual Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A Step-by-step Guide to Human Rights Fact-finding, Documentation, and Advocacy”, and especially Chapter 9, which focuses on Advocacy at the United Nations.

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Advocates for Indigenous and Minority Rights

Samone with Marcia Kran HRComm member
Samone Khouangsathiene from the Tai Studies Center briefed the UN Human Rights Committee on indigenous rights in Vietnam

The Advocates for Human Rights recently sent a delegation to the United Nations Office at Geneva. In addition to staff and volunteers, our delegation included representatives of partner organizations advocating for indigenous and minority rights.  The Advocates  partnered with The Tai Studies Center to draw attention to the discrimination and violence experienced by the Tai indigenous people in Vietnam.  With diaspora-based United Oromo Voices, The Advocates submitted a report on ethnic minorities in Ethiopia for consideration as part of Ethiopia’s Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council.

While in Geneva, our delegation participated in the discussion around the Special Rapporteur on Minority Rights’ report to the UN Human Rights Council. The agenda for this meeting was focused on the Special Rapporteur’s country visits this past year to Botswana and Slovenia, and the issues minorities face there. The Advocates highlighted for the Special Rapporteur and the Council members that minorities face similar issues in Vietnam and Ethiopia.  As a non-governmental organization with Special Consultative status, The Advocates can participate in interactive dialogues by making oral statements at the Human Rights Council. These two-minute statements are our opportunity to share our concerns with the Council, and they are recorded and published afterward on the UN website. Nagessa Dube from United Oromo Voices made the oral statement on behalf of The Advocates for Human Rights.

As an intern, I helped draft the oral statement on minority rights. Through the drafting process, I had the opportunity to learn more about the obstacles and harassment encountered by indigenous and ethnic minorities within these countries. Although these human rights issues are ongoing and The Advocates continues to receive reports of abuses from our clients, they are often forgotten by global media attention.

Here’s what we must continue to pay attention to:

In Vietnam, the government refuses to acknowledge the Tai people’s indigenous status and right to self-determination. Along with other local indigenous groups, they face barriers to land management and the state denies them adequate compensation for the resulting damage to their livelihoods. They struggle against cycles of poverty, discrimination from the majority community, and limited access to public services, electricity, and water. The Vietnamese government continues to confiscate land from indigenous groups; the Tai and other groups’ lands in Highlands’ villages have been confiscated without full compensation for state economic development projects. The government arbitrarily detains and disappears members of indigenous groups, and suppresses protesters by using national security provisions to claim that potential ties of indigenous groups to organizations abroad promote so-called “separatist aims.”

In Ethiopia, the state has continually subjected members of the minority Ogaden and Oromo communities to the arbitrary confiscation of land and ethnic persecution since the beginning of Ethiopian rule over the Somali region in 1948. In November 2015, large scale protests began in Oromia in opposition to the Addis Ababa Master Plan, which intended to forcibly displace the minority Oromos from their homes in favor of expansion of the territory of the capital city. Various Advocates clients interviewed reported that many Oromo people were injured and killed during the 2015 Irreechaa protests after security forces fired into crowds. Many of those who survived the massacre were taken into government custody. The Government of Ethiopia continues to subject minority populations to violence and arbitrary arrests.

Partners presenting at side event at UN in Geneva

I was excited to watch the delegation present our concerns to the Special Rapporteur in Geneva over the UN WebTV from my Minneapolis desk. It was rewarding to know that for those two minutes, our advocacy held the attention of the Special Rapporteur and the entire Human Rights Council. Afterward, the delegation facilitated a side event for both Vietnam and Ethiopia minority rights. The side event allowed both representatives more time to educate and advocate for the issues that minorities in these countries face.  Furthermore, it allowed representatives of many minority groups to build solidarity, highlighting the similarities of indigenous minority struggles all across the world.

I talked to The Advocates’ partners who participated in the delegation about their experiences advocating for indigenous and minority rights at the United Nations.

Samone Khouangsathiene with The Tai Studies Center reflected that “regardless of which country or which indigenous group we are from, we all have similar human rights violations occurring.  Indigenous people are being marginalized and even decimated by ruling governments around the world.” However, by the end of the event she left with a sense of hope:

Through my attendance I put Tai Dam concerns front and center not only to the Human Rights Committee but to the Vietnamese delegation.  This “face to face” showed the delegation that the Tai Dam backed by the UN holds the government accountable.  The Tai Dam are no longer voiceless.

Nagessa Dube from United Oromo Voices had a similar perspective. He appreciated the opportunity to develop connections and build relationships with different advocates and organizations in attendance. He hopes that the outcome of his time in Geneva will encourage the government of Ethiopia to listen to the recommendations of The Advocates by halting human rights violations against indigenous communities and committing to reparations for past damages.

By Alison Brady, Macalester College Class of 2019 and spring 2019 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program. 

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Egypt: The Fight to End Their Excused Executions

During my time as an International Justice Program intern at The Advocates for Human Rights, I have used my Lebanese background and Arabic language skills to dig deep into the lesser-known human rights violations occurring in the Middle East. More specifically, I have focused my research on Egypt and its increased use of the death penalty. Despite the United Nations interventions and the reports produced by international journalists on the issue, the violations have continued on, placing Egypt as the sixth highest nation for total number of people executed.

“Every Tuesday is execution day in Egypt, a trend established late last year [2018] with 23 killed since the end of December,” said ABC News correspondent Farid Farid.

2019 has been a big year for executions in Egypt. 15 people were executed in February alone. According to the Death Penalty Worldwide Organization, at least 22 people were executed in 2015, at least 44 in 2016, at least 35 in 2017, and 12 in 2018. All of these executions have been administered through hanging, for reasons including: terrorism, premeditated murder, crimes committed abroad that are harmful to state security, abduction of a female, threatening any member of Parliament, etc. The Egyptian Penal Code stipulates that the death penalty must be carried out in the presence of a prison guard, a public prosecutor, an official from the Ministry of Interior, the prison director general and doctor, as well as an additional doctor ordered by the Public Prosecution.

On February 20, 2019, the day I started researching this topic, 9 individuals were executed in Egypt for their involvement with the 2015 killing of Egypt’s General Prosecutor, Hisham Barakat. On February 13, 2019, 3 individuals were hanged for killing a police officer in 2013, and an additional 3 individuals were hanged on February 7, 2019 for their connection with the murder of an Egyptian judge’s son in 2017.  Prior to being executed, the individuals are held in detention centers under harsh conditions. The large number of arrests and the increased use of pretrial detention have resulted in extreme overcrowding, less access to resources, and a rising number of deaths in prisons.

“According to domestic and international nongovernmental NGO observers, prison cells were overcrowded, and prisoners lacked adequate access to medical care, proper sanitation and ventilation, food, and potable water,” stated in the US State Department Human Rights Report.

 As of 2014, there are 57 detention centers in Egypt. There is no limit on prison sentence length, which can also factor into the over-crowdedness of the facilities. There have been cases where prisoners detained for politically motivated charges have been held in solitary confinement for several years – which in and of itself is torture. Amnesty International has documented 36 cases of prisoners held in prolonged solitary confinements in Egypt since 2013.  Due to the extreme amounts of torture, 9 detainees have died while in custody, according to Human Rights Watch.

Despite Egypt’s support for the death penalty, they do have their restrictions on the conditions for when and how it can take place. According to the Penal Code, executions may not be administered on official holidays, including religious holidays of the convict’s faith. Although this has not been followed through entirely, the convict’s family is only allowed to visit them the day before they are executed. In addition, the Egyptian government is responsible to pay the expenses for the burial, unless the family has other wishes, and the burial must not have a ceremony.

After reading countless of stories about executions in Egypt and various countries, I am more aware and driven to continue to spread awareness on this issue. More than 160 countries have abolished the death penalty or refuse to practice it, but the fight to end it worldwide is not done yet. Whether it is administered for cultural, religious, or traditional reasons, the death penalty is a human rights violation that should not be tolerated.

 “The death penalty has no place in the 21st century,” stated on the United nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner website.

Egypt’s use of the death penalty doesn’t seem to have an end date in the near future unless the international community proceeds with the fight for its abolishment. The Advocates for Human Rights continues to work at putting a stop to this human rights violation through their international advocacy as a steering committee member of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, as a chair of the World Day Against the Death penalty, and through their submissions to the United Nations human rights bodies. Regardless of if it’s China, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, or any of the other countries that continue to practice such torturous methods, the death penalty should not be administered and should cease to exist worldwide.

Celine Ammash is a rising University of Minnesota senior majoring in Global Studies.  She was a spring 2019 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program through the University’s Human Rights Internship class.

 

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Death Penalty Moratorium Brings California Closer to International Human Rights Norms

CA death chamber
Photo: Office of the Governor of California  https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Striking-photos-show-San-Quentin-execution-13686251.php#photo-17066014

In March 2019, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state’s moratorium on the death penalty. His executive order gave the more than 700 inmates on death row reprieve from future execution (although they are still under sentence of death), closed the execution chamber in San Quentin Prison, and withdrew California’s lethal injection protocol. Governor Newsom’s order is a strong stance against the death penalty in California and the United States. The moratorium in my home state of California coincided with my internship here at The Advocates, where I have both worked on and learned about issues globally and domestically related to the death penalty.

The United States’ use of the death penalty and the conditions on death row are gross violations of global human rights norms. As of 2013, there were 3,000 prisoners on death row across 35 states . In Texas, inmates on death row are held in solitary confinement and spend all but 1-2 hours a day in isolation. When they receive visitors they are barred from having physical contact, including with their children Across the country, 93% of states with the death penalty lock up death row inmates for 22 or more hours a day and 67% of states mandate no-contact visitation for death row inmates. Additionally, 62% of states do not offer religious services to death row inmates. This practice violates the Constitution’s First Amendment, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (for federal and DC prisons), the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Being held in solitary confinement, sometimes for decades, has disastrous impacts on the mental health of death row inmates. Craig Haney, a psychologist at University of California Santa Cruz, conducted a 2003 study of inmates in solitary confinement. He found that two-thirds of inmates talked to themselves and nearly half had “perception disorders, hallucinations, or suicidal thoughts” and Stuart Grassian, who interviewed hundreds of inmates in solitary confinement, found that one-third developed severe mental illness. It is not an exaggeration to say that the treatment of death row inmates in solitary confinement amounts to torture. Techniques of social isolation of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan were some of the most common of the United States’ so-called “enhanced interrogation” techniques. The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer, has argued these interrogation methods amount to torture. 

The United States’ treatment of death row inmates violates the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules of the Treatment of Prisoners, also known as the Nelson Mandela Rules. While the rules are not legally binding, they do set minimum expectations for the treatment of prisoners. The denial of religious services and resources violates two of these rules: rule 4, which states that prisons should offer education and and vocational training and other forms of recreation and assistance, including spiritual assistance, and rule 104, which requires that inmates be provided with religious instruction. With regard to the use of solitary confinement, rule 43 specifically prohibits “prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement.” Rule 45 goes on to prohibit solitary confinement as a condition of a prisoner’s sentence. The routine confinement of death row inmates to solitary confinement for the duration of their incarceration, particularly when mandated by state law, violates these rules.  

The Advocates is actively working to combat the death penalty in the United States and globally. The Advocates is on the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. As part of our human rights advocacy at the UN we advocate against the death penalty by issuing reports and lobbying on the use of the death penalty on minors, inhumane detention conditions, lack of adequate legal representation, and other human rights concerns surrounding the death penalty. As part of this work The Advocates has collaborated not only with the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty but also with local organizations and activists on reporting and advocating against the death penalty around the world. Combating the death penalty is a central piece of The Advocates’ work in international justice, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to be a part of this work.

By Hannah Maycock, a Fall 2018/Spring 2019 International Justice Intern at The Advocates. She graduated with a degree in Political Science from Macalester College May 2019.  

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Collaborate with The Advocates for Human Rights!

Intern Rachel with partner brochures

As an organization that promotes human rights on a global scale, collaborative partnership is integral to the work of The Advocates. One way The Advocates partners with other nongovernmental organizations is through producing joint submissions to the United Nations on violence against women, use of the death penalty, and LGBTI rights, among other topics. The Advocates also collaborates with multiple diaspora communities in the United States. For example, The Advocates partnered with the Oromo diaspora to create a report that documented experiences of community members that have faced human rights violations throughout three political regimes in Ethiopia.

The Advocates encourages other communities and organizations interested in collaborating to connect with us at any time. The Advocates recently created some materials to make it easier for organizations that want to collaborate to initially reach out.

The Collaboration Request Form aims to increase effective outreach and make the process of asking to partner with The Advocates more accessible. Organizations and communities that want to learn more about opportunities to work jointly with The Advocates are welcome to fill out the form. The form asks organizations to provide information about the timing of the proposed collaboration, goals and needed resources, and specific issue-area(s) of focus for the partnership.

In addition, The Advocates is currently creating a series of brochures and will share these materials at conferences, committee meetings, and other events that representatives of prospective partner organizations may attend. These documents provide information about the mission and work of The Advocates, and concrete steps to become involved. These brochures identify opportunities to connect and provide a direct link to the Collaboration Request Form.

Partner with The Advocates Brochures

Together, the Collaboration Request Form and the brochures create more opportunities for consistent, structured, and accessible outreach to other organizations, communities, and individuals who are committed to the mission of protecting human rights. In turn, The Advocates can more efficiently organize responses and follow-ups with interested organizations.

The Advocates’ model is collaborative and inclusive. The Advocates provides many different opportunities for partnership. For collaborative projects, partner organizations identify their own priorities, and The Advocates provides them with technical assistance and capacity building to support their work. The Advocates supports organizations by providing customized trainings and workshops (both in-person and web-based), assisting with fact-finding and reporting on a variety of human rights issue-areas, and offering pro-bono legal assistance to support capacity-building for partner organizations.

Through working on the Collaboration Request Form during my internship this spring, I learned that building effective partnerships is a long-term process and providing consistent opportunities for collaboration is essential for human rights work. I hope my work will lay the foundation for many new organizations to partner with The Advocates.

Interested in finding out more information about partnering with The Advocates for Human Rights? Click here.

By Rachel Stromsta, a Macalester student majoring in Political Science and Human Rights & Humanitarism and a 2019 intern with The Advocates for Human Rights’ International Justice Program.

 

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Seeing signs of progress for LGBTI rights in Côte d’Ivoire

Philippe from Alternative Côte d’Ivoire standing in front of the flags at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, or IDAHOT. Today at The Advocates we take stock of our progress over the past year to advance LGBTI rights and what lies ahead.

One highlight of the past year was working with Alternative Côte d’Ivoire https://www.facebook.com/alternativeci.infosbranches, an Ivoirian non-governmental organization committed to the fight for the rights of sexual minorities and to combatting HIV/AIDS. We first connected with Alternative CI after they prepared a stakeholder report for the 3rd Universal Periodic Review of Cote d’Ivoire. They were eager to learn what they should do with the report.

Lobbying at the United Nations

Starting in November 2018, we collaborated with Alternative CI to condense their report into a “one-pager” to use for lobbing, identified dozens of countries to target for our lobbying efforts, and provided them with advice about approaching embassies in Abidjan to seek their support.

In March, Philippe from Alternative CI was able to join us and our team of volunteers in Geneva to continue that advocacy. He participated in our half-day training and then hit the ground running, reaching out to delegates to the UN Human Rights Council and participating in meetings to share what is happening on the ground in the country.

As Alternative CI highlighted in its stakeholder report, even though LGBT status or conduct is not criminalized, people face discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This violence and discrimination comes from private parties as well as officials, including police officers and health care workers.

Philippe joined our partners from United Oromo Voices and Human Rights in Democracy Center (Albania) to present in a parallel event during the Council session. Several government representatives attended the event to learn more about the types of recommendations Alternative Côte d’Ivoire would like them to make during the UPR’s interactive dialogue.

IMG_3937
Philippe from Alternative Côte d’Ivoire examines the team’s color-coded notecards to determine which countries he should reach out to on the floor of the Human Rights Council

Hard work pays off

Just last week, we had the chance to witness the fruits of Philippe’s hard work. The Council held its interactive dialogue with representatives of the government of Côte d’Ivoire on Tuesday, May 7. During the interactive dialogue, 101 countries offered a total of 251 recommendations to Côte d’Ivoire. Nine countries we lobbied—Argentina, Australia, Chile, the Czech Republic, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the United States—made recommendations specifically addressing LGBTI rights. It was a huge victory. By way of comparison, during Côte d’Ivoire’s 2nd UPR in 2014, just 3 countries raised the issue of LGBTI rights.

Tripling the number of recommendations turned up the heat on the government. During the interactive dialogue, the Ivoirian government felt compelled to respond. The head of the delegation stated, “Our position is unchanged since our previous UPR, and therefore no measures have been taken or are intended to be taken regarding LGBT individuals. But our legislation does not make sexual orientation subject to punishment.” It was a big step, however, for the government even to speak those words at the Human Rights Council. In 2014, the government delegation was completely silent on the issue.

Ivoirian Government responds

As part of the UPR process, all of the recommendations from the interactive dialogue are transcribed and compiled into an official document called the Report of the Working Group https://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/uploads/cote_divoire_upr_2019_report_of_working_group.pdf. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights publishes those recommendations two days after the interactive dialogue, and then the government has approximately 4 months to respond to each recommendation. For each recommendation, governments have two options: accept or “note” (reject).

Many governments take the full four months to read the recommendations carefully and decide what to do. But some governments, including Côte d’Ivoire, act quickly and respond to most of the recommendations before OHCHR publishes the Report of the Working Group.

Côte d’Ivoire said it needed more time to consider just 24 of the 251 recommendations. It accepted 219 recommendations and summarily “noted” just 24. But all of the 9 recommendations on LGBTI rights were among the noted recommendations.

That the government should decide so quickly to reject all of those hard-fought recommendations stung. But then we looked more closely at the recommendations and saw the absurdity of the government’s position. The government rejected Iceland’s recommendation to “ensure that law enforcement officers comply with laws protecting the rights of LGBTI individuals.” Did the government of Côte d’Ivoire really not want to promise that police officers would follow existing law? And it rejected the United States’ recommendation to “investigate allegations of violence and serious levels of discrimination targeting LGBTI persons.” Did the government really think authorities should bury their heads in the sand if they receive a report alleging anti-LGBTI violence?

It became clear that the Ivoirian government didn’t even read the nine recommendations. It simply rejected any recommendation that referenced sexual orientation, gender identity, or the acronym LGBTI. Even Cameroon—a country that criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct and actively prosecutes people on suspicion they are LGBT– had accepted a recommendation from Belgium to “investigate police violence that took place on persons because of their actual or perceived gender identity.”

A silver lining?Pride-Day-Flag-Rainbow-Lesbian-Pride-Color-Lgbt-3822489.jpg

Looking over the recommendations more carefully, we discovered a few openings. Côte d’Ivoire accepted a recommendation from Jordan to “provide training to all actors in promoting and protecting human rights,” and a similar recommendation from Mexico to “implement human rights training programs for personnel of institutions involved in security and justice in the country.”

We had lobbied for training for police officers and health care workers on LGBTI rights. Perhaps Alternative CI can get involved in these trainings and ensure that they include some lessons on LGBTI rights.

Moving forward on IDAHOT

On this IDAHOT, we are looking forward to a future in Côte d’Ivoire and throughout the world where governments take seriously their obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of LGBTI persons. We’re looking forward to collaborating with Alternative Cote d’Ivoire on an alternative report on the rights of lesbians, bisexual women and trans women for the upcoming review of Côte d’Ivoire by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. And we will persist in pressing the Ivoirian government to uphold its obligations under international human rights treaties to protect people from violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We’re in it for the long haul, and with hard-working partners like Alternative Côte d’Ivoire, we know that we will see results.

To learn more about The Advocates’ work on LGBTI rights, click here: http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/lgbti_rights

To learn more about UN advocacy, click here: https://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/uploads/chapter_9.pdf

If your organization would like to collaborate with The Advocates on UN advocacy or other projects, fill out this form: https://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/partner

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Puerto Rico and the Federal Death Penalty: A Legacy of Colonial Paternalism

90th anniverario

Today marks the 90th anniversary of the abolition of the death penalty in Puerto Rico. Following significant human rights progress in the nineteenth and twentieth century driven by Latin American abolitionist movements, Puerto Rico’s legislature abolished the death penalty on April 26, 1929.

A history of opposition

In 1952 the Puerto Rican Constitution further secured abolition by declaring: “The death penalty shall not exist.”

The Puerto Rican Constitution has a unique history. The Congress of the United States adopted a law in 1950 authorizing Puerto Rico to draft its own constitution. After several months of deliberation, the Constitutional Convention of Puerto Rico produced a draft Constitution. In 1952 the electorate in Puerto Rico approved that document, with support of nearly 82% of voters. After the referendum, the U.S. Congress amended the draft constitution, but did not amend the provision prohibiting the death penalty. After those amendments, the Constitutional Convention reconvened and approved a resolution accepting the congressional amendments. And in November 1952, the Puerto Rican electorate approved the amended constitution.

Commemorating 90 years of abolition

The legislature of Puerto Rico is commemorating the historic milestone of abolition of the death penalty with a joint resolution that explicitly reaffirms abolition of the death penalty and rejects the application of capital punishment as a “failed mechanism” which is implemented in an “arbitrary and discriminatory manner.”

Federal authorities have stepped up efforts to seek the death penalty in Puerto Rico

Despite Congress explicitly accepting and endorsing Puerto Rico’s Constitution, the federal government has continued to seek death sentences in Puerto Rico, ignoring strong local opposition. In this sense, today’s resolution, and the anniversary more generally, also highlight the complex colonial history of capital punishment in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico’s continuing commitment to fighting the death penalty reflects not only the collective, cultural opposition of its citizens to capital punishment, but also a world view that recognizes the fundamental incompatibility of the death penalty with human rights. At a time when there may be ominous backsliding on these issues at the federal level, Puerto Rico is leading by example.

The Juan Pedro Vidal case sheds light on these tensions

When the federal government seeks the death penalty in Puerto Rico, it is violating not only the right of all persons to be protected from cruel and inhuman punishment, but also the right of self-determination of the people of Puerto Rico.

Today’s joint resolution by the Puerto Rican legislature highlights a decision issued earlier this month by Judge Gustavo A. Gelpi of the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. In that decision, Judge Gelpi rejected Juan Pedro Vidal’s argument that the Federal Death Penalty Act does not apply to Puerto Rico.

Vidal argued that U.S. citizens who reside in Puerto Rico should not be subject to federal civil and criminal laws that are crafted by representatives for whom they did not vote, particularly in light of the history of Puerto Rico’s decision to abolish the death penalty and the formal act of the U.S. Congress approving that decision.

In a four-page opinion, Judge Gelpi rejected Vidal’s arguments, asserting that capital punishment falls into a category of federal laws that apply equally to all citizens, independent of questions of geography. The court stated that the issue of disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico presented a question to be resolved through the political process, not the court. Moreover, the court reasoned, even though the Puerto Rican Constitution prohibits capital punishment, federal law preempts state law for federal crimes, as would be true in any other state.

The principle of consent of the governed

The court’s order ignores Puerto Rico’s unique status and history which place the people of Puerto Rico in a “democratic void,” unable to seek adequate political or legal recourse. Today’s joint resolution noted this dissonance, emphasizing that U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico have no say in the federal government policy that can take their lives.

Steven Potolsky, who represented Pedro Vidal and specializes in death penalty defense, argued that it was precisely due to this lack of representation that judicial action was necessary. Potolsky emphasized that because the U.S. Congress had originally accepted Puerto Rico’s constitutional prohibition of the death penalty, retroactive application of federal capital punishment was unreasonable and excessive, especially in light of the fact that U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico have no democratic mechanism to voice their opposition at the federal level.

Federal judge’s arguments place Puerto Ricans in a double-bind

Although Judge Gelpi acknowledged that the lack of representation was undemocratic, he said that it was not unconstitutional, and that it was left to “the hands of Congress” to fix the problem.

The court never explains how to determine when something that is undemocratic is also unconstitutional, or why exactly the courts should not intervene. The court’s analysis drew on other opinions applying federal law to colonial territories, but ignored Puerto Rico’s distinct and unique history. The opinion seems to place Puerto Ricans in a political-legal double bind.

The court also ignores Puerto Ricans’ longstanding opposition to the death penalty. As the joint resolution highlights, no jury in Puerto Rico has ever sentenced a person to death under federal law, even after those juries have reached guilty verdicts.

Worrying trends under the Trump Administration

The court’s logic is even more worrying when framed within the broader of the death penalty in the United States since 2016. Amnesty International has documented an increase in the number of executions and death sentences since 2009 for two years in a row.

Although these numbers still remain at historical lows, the trend points to an ominous political and legal climate under the Trump presidency. They call on us to be vigilant and to combat backsliding.

In the context of Puerto Rico, the joint resolution noted that even though Puerto Ricans account for just 1% of the U.S. population, Puerto Rico accounted for 20% of all federal death penalty cases between 2012 and 2014. With these trends in mind, the federal courts should pay more careful attention to their role in safeguarding the rights of people in territories like Puerto Rico.

Continuing local, national, and international efforts to fight the death penalty

The Vidal decision has further galvanized the Puerto Rican fight against the death penalty. Kevin Miguel Rivera-Medina, President of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty and of the Puerto Rican Bar Association, expressed frustration at the hearing before Judge Gelpi. Attorneys for the federal government—both white and not Puerto Rican—asserted that Puerto Ricans were not traditionally opposed to the death penalty. The argued that the death penalty was used during the 19th century and in the early 20th century. But as Rivera-Medina pointed out, they ignored the fact that during that time Puerto Rico had been under the Spanish colonial regime and then was a U.S. colonial territory.

In celebration of the 90th anniversary of Puerto Rico’s abolition of the death penalty, universities and high schools are holding round tables on the topic and the Puerto Rican Coalition Against the Death Penalty is welcoming Witness to Innocence—an organization created by and for death row exonerees—to the Puerto Rican legislature.

The Advocates for Human Rights is preparing to bring these issues to the international stage

In May 2020, the United States will participate in its third Universal Periodic Review at the U.N. Human Rights Council. During the last UPR, The Advocates raised the issue of the death penalty in Puerto Rico in a joint stakeholder report coauthored with the Puerto Rican Coalition Against the Death Penalty and the Greater Caribbean for Life We are busy preparing an updated report that will identify some of the recent developments in Puerto Rico and throughout the United States that warrant the world’s attention. For more information about using the United Nations to promote human rights, see Chapter 9 of Human Rights Tools for a Changing World. To read more about the death penalty in the United States and other countries, consult our online library of UN submissions.

By Shubhankar Dharmadhikari, an intern with the International Justice Program at The Advocates for Human Rights. He is a student at the University of Minnesota.

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The Advocates Welcomes Progress in Ethiopia, Remains Concerned that Threats to Minority Rights Remain

The Advocates for Human Rights has worked in partnership with the Oromo diaspora for many years to hold the government of Ethiopia accountable for human rights violations.  In March 2019, volunteer Nagessa Dube made the following oral statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council during an Interactive Dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on minority issues.  

Dear Mr. President:

The Advocates for Human Rights, alongside partner organization United Oromo Voices, would like to thank the Special Rapporteur for his report on minority issues. The concerns that he raises in his report and in his 2018 country visits parallel the struggles minority indigenous groups face in Ethiopia.

Similar to Botswanan minorities, as discussed in the report, minority groups in Ethiopia face barriers to land use. Members of the minority Ogaden community have been subjected to the arbitrary confiscation of land and ethnic persecution since the beginning of Ethiopian rule over the Somali region in 1948. In April 2014 and again in November 2015, the Oromo people launched large-scale protests in opposition to the Addis Ababa Master Plan, which intended to forcibly displace the Oromos from their homes in favor of expansion of the territory of the capital city.

We call attention to the persecution and suppression of freedom of speech. Many Oromo people were injured and killed during the 2016 Irreechaa protests after security forces fired into crowds. Many survivors were taken into government custody.

We do commend the Ethiopian Government for accepting several recommendations in the last UPR in 2014 to take measures to alleviate tensions between and discrimination against ethnic groups through intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. And we welcome the current administration’s stated commitment to reforms, including the release of thousands of political prisoners—many belonging to minority and indigenous groups—and ending the state of emergency. Despite this progress, the threat to minority rights in Ethiopia continues via land displacement, persecution, and suppression of the freedom of expression.

We urge the government of Ethiopia and the Council to work together to confront the threats to minority rights in all their forms.

Thank you.

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Briefing the UN Human Rights Council on Burundi

A growing number of victims fleeing politically-based violence in Burundi have requested legal assistance from The Advocates for Human Rights in applying for asylum in the United States. The Advocates for Human Rights recently brought the experience of our clients and concerns about violations of civil and political rights in Burundi to the United Nations Human Rights Council.  The Advocates for Human Rights’ volunteer attorney Carrie Brasser delivered the following oral statement in March 2019 during an Interactive Dialogue with the UN Commission of Inquiry for Burundi.

The Advocates for Human Rights welcomes the oral briefing of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi.

Since April 2015, the human rights crisis in Burundi has escalated in both its extent and brutality. The ruling party’s repression of suspected opponents, civil society, and the media has involved enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture and rape. State actors, including members of the police force and the Imbonerakure youth league, have acted with impunity against their victims. The indiscriminate shooting of demonstrators, targeting of journalists and activists, and aggressive reprisals against witnesses are among the many abuses suffered by citizens. These conditions have caused over 250,000 to flee this state-sponsored oppression and violence.

As a provider of legal services to asylum seekers, The Advocates for Human Rights has represented victims of violence from Burundi and documented first-hand accounts of:

  • Illegal invasions and searches of homes and businesses, including firing on civilians, looting of property, and the rape of a witness
  • The arbitrary arrest of an anti-corruption activist based on false charges, culminating in her assault and rape, and
  • The targeting of supporters of constitutional election law, as well as journalists, involving arbitrary arrests followed by brutal torture for extended periods

We commend the Commission of Inquiry for making concerted efforts to engage in monitoring and fact-finding among people who have been forced to flee the country.

These and other accounts of human rights abuses support our recommendations that the Human Rights Council:

  • Continue the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Burundi and retain the situation in Burundi on its agenda under item 4
  • Request that the Security Council impose sanctions against individuals responsible for both gross systemic human rights violations as well as the obstruction of UN mechanisms to document violations and
  • Encourage effective justice mechanisms to ensure that individuals responsible for these abuses are held accountable.

Thank you.

In 2017, The Advocates also submitted a stakeholder submission for Burundi’s Universal Periodic Review, which included direct information about human rights violations from survivors who have fled Burundi to seek asylum in the United States.  Read the full submission here.

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Trafficking in Women and Girls in the Context of Global Migration

Since 2014, a growing number of women and children fleeing gender-based violence in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua have requested legal assistance from The Advocates in applying for asylum in the United States. The Advocates for Human Rights is able to help these women and children in two important ways: providing legal assistance in their asylum and trafficking cases and documenting their experiences to advocate at the United Nations for law and policy changes. 

In February 2019, Board member Peggy Grieve shared the experiences of our asylum clients with and made recommendations to the UN Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women.  Peggy delivered the following oral intervention during the Committee’s Half-day General Discussion on Trafficking in Women and Girls in the Context of Global Migration.

Dear Members of the Committee:

From The Advocates for Human Rights’ direct legal representation of Northern Triangle clients, we have determined:

(1) children, even when traveling in the company of migrating adults, are vulnerable to sex trafficking; and

(2) after arrival in the U.S., adults and children are at risk of labor trafficking.

Two examples. One client entered the U.S. as a 15-year-old girl with her father. A family friend coerced her into leaving home. They traveled to live several states away where this friend groomed her to be sex-trafficked.

A client entered the U.S. without inspection with her boyfriend. He brought her to live with his family.  Before long, he demanded that she repay him $10,000 he had paid smugglers for entry. He sexually assaulted her. She was forced into a low-paid, illegal job to cover her “debt.”

No one is going to believe you. You don’t have a voice. Here you are nobody,” she was told.

To help women and girls, victims of trafficking, survive, heal, and ultimately integrate into society and live a life free of further exploitation, a victim-centered, trauma-informed approach that provides survivors with immigration and other legal protections and adequate support services is critical.  The criminal justice approach focused on punishing traffickers, by itself, is insufficient to address the human rights of sex and labor trafficked survivors.

On behalf of our clients, the Advocates for Human Rights thanks the Committee for this important initiative.

The Advocates for Human Rights encourages the Committee to consider the experience of our women and girl clients, as well as the recommendation for a victim-centered approach to identify and respond to meet the needs of trafficked women and girls in the context of global migration.

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International Women’s Day 2019: Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change

The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 is Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change. According to UN Women, this theme challenges us to think about how we can “advance gender equality and the empowerment of women.” This objective reflects that envisioned by Sustainable Development Goal 5, which recognizes that although discrimination against women and girls is decreasing, gender inequality persists and continues to deny women and girls basic human rights and opportunities. As we look at laws and practices around the world today, there are still laws that actively discriminate against women. Many countries still retain lists of prohibited jobs for women – banning them from jobs such as a truck driver, factory worker, metal welder, deck hand or barring them from working above certain heights or during night hours. In countries where economic opportunities are scarce, removing these employment opportunities from women’s reach hinders their empowerment, advancement and economic independence. For example, Russia bans women from 456 types of jobs, Ukraine bans women from 458 jobs, and Kazakhstan bans women from 287 jobs. These countries are rich in natural resources and therefore employment opportunities in those fields, yet the lists of banned professions often include jobs found in the extractives industries.

promoting_gender_diversity_and_inclusion_in_the_oil_gas_and_mining_extractive_industries
At the request of the UN Group of Experts on Coal Mine Methane, The Advocates has undertaken research to examine the benefits of female inclusion and ways to support women in traditionally male-dominated industries, specifically the extractive industries of oil, gas, and mining. The report, Promoting Gender Diversity and Inclusion in the Oil, Gas and Mining Extractive Industries, demonstrates the numerous benefits that women and diversity bring to industries, including a larger talent pool for recruitment, greater profitability, improved performance, better safety records, and overall economic empowerment to women and communities. For example, it is well-documented that female inclusion boosts company profits. Companies ranking in the top 25 percent for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have “financial returns” higher than the national industry medians. Companies with more women employees and gender-diverse teams have better teamwork, communication, and greater creativity in solving business and technical problems than homogenous work forces, and women are more likely to use teamwork and cooperative approaches that draw on the skills and resources of a broader network. The report also addresses challenges that women face – both legal and in the workplace setting – that hinder their full participation in the workforce. The report concludes with recommendations to both states and private companies on how to promote gender diversity and inclusion, with the priority recommendation to repeal laws that discriminate against women in the workplace and in private life.

By: Rosalyn Park, director of the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights.

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Legislation: Is It Ever Enough?

Processed with MOLDIV
Photo by ALICE MULOMBE MUYAMBO 

In 1985, the Republic of Zambia ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. It was another 23 years before legislation was enacted in the form of the 2011 Anti-Gender-Based Violence Act.  Its Preamble bold declared it “An Act to provide for the protection of victims of gender-based violence,”  prompting a sharp rise in the numbers of reported cases as non-governmental organizations conducted nationwide campaigns to inform the public of the new legislation.

On paper, the law was a step in the right direction, fighting widespread violence against women and thereby challenging years of traditional gender roles by criminalizing a wide range of abuses based on sex, from economic to physical, and emotional, verbal and psychological abuse.

However, when the legislation was put to the test in the Courtroom, it failed to meet its own high standard. Cases of domestic violence, sexual violence, and gender-based violence against women continued to be tried using outdated laws such as the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Codes. Many of the victims of these shortfalls in the law are nameless and have no safety net when their cases fall through.

Take Jessie (not her real name) for example. A 25-year-old magistrate who graduated from a premier Law School in Lusaka, she was married to a military man whom she met while at law school. Their year-long marriage was stained by violent outbursts, physical violence, public humiliation and isolation from friends and family– all the things that the Anti-Gender-Based Violence Act was meant to protect her from.

Finally on December 3, 2015, Jessie’s military employee husband beat her unconscious. Jessie woke up in Kabwe General Hospital, blood drenched and deformed with two deep cuts to the head. She accepted support from her colleagues and family and especially from the justice system that she had worked so hard to be a part of.

Instead, she woke up to humiliating headlines in two public newspapers, “Army officer batters magistrate wife,” read one newspaper; four national radio stations carried the story without bothering to verifying any of the facts.

Physically, the wounds took four months to heal.  Her employers, however, demanded that she report to work for two weeks after the incident.

Meanwhile, her husband was arrested and released when she dropped the case due to pressure from her mother, who was concerned by what friends and family would say. After all, Jessie was a successful magistrate; her parents were marriage councillors who had been married for more than twenty years, she had a daughter – her mother reminded her – who needed both parents, and there was the Zambian proverb that urges women to “stay strong” in the face of turbulent times. Shipikisha club, they call it.

So, she took the advice of her mother and dropped the case against her husband, hoping that his three days in custody would force him to reflect on his behavior and start a journey to change.

Although the Penal Code gives the state the right to prosecute cases on behalf of victims, even after they give statements stating that they wish to drop them, the Judiciary did not take kindly to Jessie’s actions. When she reported for work, she was greeted by hostile stares and a suspension letter from the Deputy Director charging her with conduct likely to bring the Judiciary into disrepute, a vague term that can be used to cover a wide range of incidents. There was no provision under any code allowing or sanctioning the suspension, and the offense she was charged with carried a punishment of a written warning. The experience left her feeling victimised. She was given seven days within which to exculpate herself, and after she did, she did not hear from her employers for nine months.

Her husband in the meantime, continued to work for the Zambian Army.  He has not faced any sanctions from his employers or accountability for his behaviour by the public media, and his life continues as before.

Numerous letters later, Jessie was reinstated, with a thinly veiled threat that she must ensure that the incident never recurred if she wanted to keep her job. This seemed contrary to the official position of the Zambian Judiciary, which had taken a strong stance against gender-based violence against women in the media and was launching a fast-track court in Kabwe.

So, how does one pick up the pieces after being abused by all the people and institutions that are supposed to protect you? You do better. Jessie is a strong advocate for women’s rights in the workplace and uses the Anti-Gender-Based Violence Act in the Courtroom. With the help of friends and other victims, she overcame her initial misgivings about handling cases similar to her own, and she now sits on the bench in Monze Zambia.

Still, Jessie’s experience begs the question: is legislation enough to end violence against women?

By Mubanga Kalimamukwento, Hubert Humphrey (Fulbright) Fellow 2018/2019 – University of Minnesota, who is doing her professional affiliation with the International Justice Program of The Advocates for Human Rights.

Expanding the Technical Expertise of Women’s Rights Defenders in 2018

FeaturedExpanding the Technical Expertise of Women’s Rights Defenders in 2018

Women’s rights are human rights. We make up half the world’s population, and therefore, half its potential. But unfortunately, laws, practices, and people’s attitudes do not always take into account the legacy of discrimination in women’s lives and the fact that women and girls routinely face violence and oppression.

We know that, when we lift up women, we see a ripple effect that goes far beyond women and girls and into the world. For example, when we see greater income equality across both women and men, poverty diminishes through the generations. When women hold assets or gain income, that money is more likely to be spent on their family’s nutrition, medicines, and housing. As a result, children are healthier and the community does better. When girls pursue a secondary education, they marry later and have fewer children. Their risk of domestic violence is lower compared to child brides who are forced to marry.

It Takes a Multifaceted Approach

From ending violence against women to stopping discrimination to empowering women.

What is The Advocates for Human Rights doing about it?

  • We change laws by analyzing and commenting on laws before they are passed to make sure they are the strongest they can be.
  • We monitor and document violations of women’s rights and make recommendations to fix the pitfalls and barriers to women.
  • We build the capacity of civil society to hold their governments accountable and safeguard women’s rights.
  • We provide our expertise to the United Nations to elaborate best practice standards on violence against women and evaluate on-the-ground practices.

We Were Busy in 2018!

Ending Violence Against Women

  • We completed the final two trainings for the Russian Legal Training Academy for Women’s Human Rights. Sixteen Russian-speaking lawyers from 8 countries in the Former Soviet Union were trained on how to use UN and European mechanisms when all domestic remedies have failed. The second training, in Chisinau, Moldova, led by Jennifer Prestholdt, Theresa Dykoschak, and Amy Bergquist, addressed using UN mechanisms to defend women’s rights. Local NGO, Promo-LEX, was our host partner for this second session. Rosalyn Park, Amy Bergquist and Theresa Dykoschak completed the third session this October in Tbilisi, Georgia. Local NGO, Anti-Violence Network of Georgia, was our host partner for the third and final session.

    • Rosalyn Park and volunteer Veronica Clark attended the Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE) Network annual conference in Malta in late October. They conducted interviews on the backlash against women’s rights across Europe.

    • Robin Phillips attended the “European Network for the Work with Perpetrators of Domestic Violence” (WWP EN) conference in Prague, Czech Republic in October with Denise Gamache of the Battered Women’s Justice Project. Our participation builds on our 2016 report, Batterer Intervention Programs: Recommendations for Effective Batterer Intervention Programs in Central & Eastern Europe & the former Soviet Union.

    • At the invitation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Rosalyn Park was in Astana, Kazakhstan to present on international best practices for legal reform on domestic violence. The conference, “Preventing Domestic Violence through Effective Collaboration: A New Stage of Development of Crisis Centers,” was organized by OSCE, UN Women, UNFPA, and the Union of Crisis Centers in Kazakhstan and aimed at strengthening the work of the crisis centers and raising awareness on preventing domestic violence.

Stopping Discrimination

  • At the request of the UN Group of Experts on Coal Mine Methane, The Advocates undertook research to highlight the benefits of promoting female inclusion in traditionally male-dominated industries and identify ways to support the women in these sectors. Fish & Richardson and Dechert LLP provided pro bono assistance to help conduct the research. The Advocates presented its findings in Geneva at the annual meeting of the UN Group of Experts on Coal Mine Methane. The report will be published in early 2019.

    • Theresa Dykoschak, Staff Attorney, was in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in early November as an expert panelist at a conference for systems actors from Central Asian countries on eliminating gender-based violence against women and girls. The conference was organized by UN Women, UNFPA, UNDP and UNICEF.

Empowering Women and Human Rights Defenders

  • Robin Phillips and Rosalyn Park trained 25 lawyers from 15 countries for the seventh round of the Women’s Human Rights Training Institute (WHRTI) in Sofia, Bulgaria. In partnership with the Bulgarian Gender Research Foundation and Equality Now, WHRTI strives to build the capacity of young lawyers from Central and Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union for litigation on women’s rights issues.

    • Robin Phillips and Rosalyn Park built the capacity of civil society to hold their governments accountable to effectively respond to rape and sexual violence. At the invitation of local partner Mobilizing for Rights Associates, The Advocates trained 23 civil society members and systems actors in Marrakech, Morocco in December.

    • In March we celebrated International Women’s Day, a day to catalyze activism and to focus on advancements and challenges in women’s rights and equality. Theresa Dykoschak presented on cyberviolence and Rosalyn Park facilitated a panel discussion by the keynote speaker and performing artist, Nekessa Julia Opoti and Andrea Jenkins.

Thank you to all our supporters! We look forward to continuing the work in 2019.

By: Rosalyn Park, director of the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights.

 

Freedom

FeaturedFreedom

…it seems that the concept of freedom no longer has a consensus understanding among the American people.  What’s more, we have lost our ability to engage in debate, a cornerstone of a healthy democracy. 

Until recently, I had not visited Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty.  Working with immigrants and asylum seekers has thus far defined my professional career, but my visit to Lady Liberty served as a reminder about our nation’s concept of freedom. The audio guide (love this modern invention) shared many new facts about Lady Liberty, reinforced ones commonly known and challenged visitors to define the statue’s significance to them.

At its inception in 1886, the Statue of Liberty was built as a sort of nod from the French to the United States which was, by then, a century-old democracy with a bright future, having recently withstood a civil war.

She was built filled with symbols: her torch as a sign of enlightenment; her sun ray crown sharing her light with the rest of the world; her tablet of laws symbolizing the importance of the rule of law; and at her feet, broken chains as a sign of freedom from slavery and political oppression.

A powerful part of the statue’s story is that the significance of her symbols has changed alongside U.S. history, a true sign of her aspirational nature.

In her early years, Lady Liberty was a symbol of hope, freedom and new beginnings, welcoming over 12 million new immigrants, accepting 98% of those who passed through Ellis Island from 1892-1954. During WWI and WWII, she welcomed troops back to the homeland, standing as a reminder of the freedoms they were fighting for while stationed in other parts of the world.  She now stands with the Manhattan skyline at her side, including the new World Trade Center, as a reminder of strength and resilience to rebuild in the name of freedom.

At the end of the tour, the audio guide challenged me (and everyone else who listened to it) to define what liberty means.

I was just about 10 when the Cold War ended, just over 20 when the Twin Towers fell and right around 30 when the Great Recession hit.  Each of these events has shaped my understanding of political, ideological and economic freedoms.  There was much debate among the American people about how much “liberty” could be sacrificed in order to protect “freedom” but little question about what “freedom” meant at the time.  At forty, it seems that the concept of freedom no longer has a consensus understanding among the American people.  What’s more, we have lost our ability to engage in debate, a cornerstone of a healthy democracy.

Immigration is one of the many issues where debate has become nearly impossible.  The last comprehensive reform to our immigration laws was over half a century ago.  The last meaningful attempt at reform was a decade ago. A week ago, without discussion or debate, our government temporarily closed the San Diego port of entry to asylum seekers and is attempting to close off the rest of the border permanently.

The 1980 Refugee Act amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to “revise the procedures for the [S. 643] admission of refugees, to amend the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962 to establish a more uniform basis for the provision of assistance to refugees, and for other purposes.” (Source: Public Law 96-212) Refugee law and humanitarian law recognize that refugees seeking safety cannot always follow an orderly immigration process when death is at their door. Thus, our laws allow for anyone in the U.S. to apply for asylum, regardless of how or where they entered.

Monday, December 10 is Human Rights Day and the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. It confirms that the State has a core duty to promote standards of life that enable us to enjoy equality and freedom, achieve justice, and live in peace.

I cannot think of a simpler concept of freedom than to be able to go to school, run your business, raise your family or live in your home without fearing that you might be killed.  As we turn our backs on these families and children seeking this most basic freedom that the Statue of Liberty symbolized, I cannot help but fear that in the next decade “freedom” in America will may lose its meaning altogether.

By Sarah Brenes, Director Refugee & Immigrant Program at The Advocates for Human Rights

 

Volunteering with The Advocates for Human Rights

FeaturedVolunteering with The Advocates for Human Rights

Why should you volunteer with The Advocates?
The Advocates for Human Rights is an organization dedicated to helping refugees and immigrants, women, ethnic and religious minorities, children, and other marginalized communities. For more than thirty years The Advocates have been able to change lives through investigating and exposing human rights violations; representing people who are seeking asylum; training and assisting groups that protect human rights; engaging the public, policy-makers and children; and pushing for legal reform around the world. This would not have been achievable without the thousands of volunteers that have dedicated their time and skills each year.

Volunteer model:
As a volunteer-based organization, The Advocates’ mission is to engage as many people as possible in the fight against human rights violations. Utilizing its resources and years’ in experience, The Advocates’ small staff is able to team with volunteers and partners to implement human rights standards to promote civil society and reinforce the rule of law. For instance, because of the generous assistance of volunteer attorneys, The Advocates can provide free legal services to asylum seekers. The Advocates relies on the support of individuals, law firms, foundations, and the business community to fulfill its mission.

What you can do to help:
There are opportunities for both professionals and non-professionals to get involved: the first step is subscribing to The Advocates’ monthly e-newsletter. Keeping in touch allows one to remain abreast of current human rights issues, as well as be notified of new opportunities to volunteer. To sign up for the mailing list and newsletter, please visit our web site.

Lawyers can donate their time to The Advocates by volunteering to represent asylum seekers pro bono in immigration court. No experience with immigration or human rights law is required. The Advocates will adequately prepare any lawyers who wish to do this. For more information about pro bono work and other volunteering opportunities in the professional world, please visit our web site.

In addition, The Advocates offers an upcoming Continuing Legal Education (CLE) program on human rights and human rights law.

For non-lawyers there are also many ways to get involved. High school and college students can apply to intern and work with The Advocates in various capacities. Furthermore, one can volunteer to be an interpreter or translator, provide office support, become a court observer, or work with The Advocates at the Minnesota State Fair. For volunteering information and to sign up, please visit our web site.

Additionally, immigration has recently become a hot topic with the most pressing issue that confronts us today is the treatment of immigrants at the United States border. In response to this outcry, The Advocates have formed the Immigrant Rights Defense Campaign (IRDC), which urges people to publicly commit to fighting for the rights of immigrants. Both individuals and entire firms can sign onto the IRDC and commit to publicly engaging with at least one campaign action. More information can be found on the IRDC website.

By Alyxandra Sego, an intern with The Advocates for Human Rights.

Using Theatre to Discuss Immigration with Children

FeaturedUsing Theatre to Discuss Immigration with Children

I Come from Arizona — a currently running Children’s Theatre Company production that is creating bridges for discussion.

When I was a child, I grew up on the East side of St. Paul. I lived in an old neighborhood that was home to people of diverse races, economic classes, sexual orientations, and religions. My own father was a refugee from Cambodia, and in 1995, he married a white woman and bought a house in that old neighborhood a year later. Our next-door neighbors were a large Mexican family, and when I was 9, the father was deported and my best friend at the time had to move away. I remember wondering if my father would ever be deported. I was told that it would never happen because he had become an official citizen. As a young child, this was a huge comfort.

That comfort of knowing that your parents are legally allowed in the United States is not something every child shares. I Come from Arizona is a play that seeks to have that conversation with younger audiences and their families/communities. It centers on the experience of a young girl named Gabi who learns that her family is undocumented from Mexico and her interactions with contrasting perspectives on immigration. It was premiered at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis October 9 and runs through November 25. Guest speakers from The Advocates for Human Rights have held post-play discussions to help audiences sift through the often challenging issues raised.
After the show, children from the audience have been invited to send their questions to Off-Book where CTC cast and crew and The Advocates can respond.

Here are some the questions and their answers:

Question: Why is the immigration debate always centered around Mexico and South America?

Madeline Lohman, Senior Researcher: “The immigration debate is centered around Mexico and Latin America for a few reasons. One is historical. Because of our land border with Mexico, it is true that the majority of undocumented immigrants in the past were from Mexico. This led opponents of undocumented immigration to equate it with Mexican immigration or even Mexican identity, when the vast majority of people of Mexican ancestry living in the United States are citizens or legal residents. Today, Mexicans may no longer be the majority of undocumented immigrants according to estimates from the Pew Research Center, which has some of the most reliable numbers on the topic. So, the focus on unauthorized immigration from Mexico is no longer accurate, but it still persists.

A second reason is racial prejudice. Immigrants from Mexico and Latin America are typically people of color and they share a common, non-English language. White, English-speaking citizens can see that they are different in a way that is more difficult with immigrants from Canada or most of Europe. Those white citizens may also have a family heritage from European countries that leads them to feel an affinity for immigrants from Europe that they do not feel for immigrants from Latin America. We can see the influence of racial prejudice in debates about refugee resettlement and granting asylum. When (white) Bosnians were fleeing during the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, there was far less push back than during today’s refugee crises in Syria, Central America, and Somalia.”

Question: Is it true that people have to walk through the desert to cross the border?

Michele Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director: “Yes, it’s true. People often walk for many days through the desert to come to the United States.

People come to the United States for many reasons and in many different ways. Many people take airplanes, boats, or drive cars to visit or move to the United States. People who come to the United States need permission, called a “visa,” and need to be inspected and admitted by an officer at the border or airport. The government estimates that 76.9 million people came to the U.S. in 2017, mostly as visitors.

But the United States does not let everyone who wants or needs to come here into the country. People who want to visit, for example, have to prove they have enough money to travel and that they are going to return home when their trip is over in order to get a visa.

Sometimes people risk a dangerous journey to the United States so they can try to enter the country and get work to send money to their families. The United States only allows people to “immigrate” (move here permanently) if a close family member or employer in the United States files a “petition” with the government to let the person come here. But many people who want to come to the United States to build a better future for themselves and their families do not have someone to petition for them. For most, there is no way to legally immigrate. (The United States only allows people who can prove they will invest $1.0 million in a business to immigrate without a petition).

Some people have to leave their homes because they are not safe and come to the United States to seek asylum. People have to be in the United States or at a port-of-entry at the border or airport to ask for asylum — there’s no other process to follow. Asylum seekers from Central America and other countries sometimes make their way to the border on foot. More than 90,000 adults with children were apprehended by U.S. officials near the southern border in 2018.

Here is a good resource for learning more: Enrique’s Journey, a book by Sonia Nazario.”

Question: Why did Gabi’s mom have to lie to her [about their undocumented status]?

Michele Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director: “Gabi’s mom was afraid that she would be deported if anyone found out she was in the United States without permission, which we sometimes call being “undocumented.”

People who don’t have permission from the U.S. government to be in the United States can be sent back to their home countries. This is called “deportation.”
Citizens cannot be deported from the United States. Today, everyone who is born in the United States is a U.S. citizen. People born outside the United States can become U.S. citizens through a legal process called “naturalization” where they take an oath of citizenship. U.S. citizens have permission to be here and cannot be deported.

But not everyone in the United States is a citizen. (The law calls anyone who is not a U.S. citizen an “alien”). Many people in the United States have permission to be in the country but are not citizens — they are permanent residents (we sometimes say they have a “green card”), visitors, students, or many other categories. People have to follow special rules and if they break the rules they can be deported. (For example, a person coming to visit the United States is not allowed to work here. If they work, they break the rules and can be deported).

Some people come into the United States without any permission or they stay in the United States after they were supposed to leave. They can be deported if the government finds out they are here without permission.

Here is a good resource for learning more: Documented, a film by Jose Antonio Vargas.”

Question: Do stories like this really happen?

Michele Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director: “These stories really happen, and they may be happening to you or kids you know. This can be scary.

The government estimates there are about 11 million people in the United States who do not have permission to be here. About 6 million people under age 18 live with at least 1 undocumented family member.”

Question: Do ICE agents really take people away?

Michele Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director: “ICE agents arrest, detain, and deport people from the United States every day.

Since 2008, more than 2 million people have been arrested by ICE and more than 1.2 million people have been ordered deported by immigration judges. ICE reports that 226,119 people were removed from the United States in 2017.

Here is a good resource to learn your rights and make a plan: IMMI: free and simple information for immigrants.”

If you would like to stay up to date with the questions and answers, Off-Book will continue to post updates here.

Or, if you would like to join the conversation and attend I Come From Arizona, resources and tickets can be found here.

By Alyxandra Sego, an intern with The Advocates for Human Rights.

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Representing Women Seeking Asylum in the US: Gender-Based Persecution

In reSVAW logo copypresenting several women seeking asylum in the US based on gender-based persecution, I have learned a lot and had some of my most memorable experiences as a lawyer.

  • “Nancy” is a woman from Guinea who was subjected to female genital mutilation at thirteen, and again at fourteen, and then the victim of persistent violence and rape by her husband that family, friends, her doctor, and the police were unable or unwilling to stop. She twice fled the country, but her husband found her and forced her to return home, which only led to escalating violence and prolonged imprisonment.  Her family counseled her to “accept” this treatment, and the police refused to intervene because her husband was a high ranking member of the military police.  She escaped to the US, was granted asylum, and is working to reunite with her children.
  • “Donna” is a woman from Cameroon who was the victim of levirate marriage. She was viewed as property of the family, since a dowry had been paid, so after her husband died she was required to marry one of her brothers-in-law.  When she refused, she was sexually assaulted, told she would “get used to it,” and her family and business were threatened.  She escaped to the US, was granted asylum, and has reunited with her children.
  • “Janet” is a woman from Kenya who was the victim of female genital mutilation. She was seeking protection for herself, and also to prevent having to take her daughter back to Kenya where her family would require that her daughter also undergo female genital mutilation.  She was granted withholding of removal, so that she and her daughter are safe in the US.
  • “Francis” is a woman from The Gambia who was the victim of female genital mutilation, and who sought to avoid a forced marriage to a much older man. She had secretly acted as an activist working to educate people about the risks of female genital mutilation, and her mother, at great risk to herself, persuaded her father to let Francis pursue her education.  In order to prevent the forced marriage, and to continue her education, she came to the US, sought and was granted asylum.

The primary reason these awful things happened to my clients is because they are women.  Female genital mutilation, forced marriage, levirate marriage, and ongoing domestic violence continues to happen because in some places women and girls are not viewed as fully human, endowed with the same rights as men. We should be proud that our legal system rejected that view, and instead found affirming their basic human rights worthy of protection.

A recent decision from the Attorney General has proposed to make it more difficult for women fleeing gender-based violence to get protection in the US. In Matter of A-B, 27 I&N Dec. 316 (A.G. 2018), the Attorney General invoked a rarely used power to certify to himself a case for decision so that he could change the law in this area.  In the case, the primary issue that had been litigated was whether the applicant was credible, and the Department of Homeland Security even had agreed that private violence like domestic violence that a government cannot or will not control can be a proper basis for asylum.  The Attorney General, however, reached out to decide a broader issue, which was whether, and under what circumstances, being a victim of private criminal activity constitutes a cognizable “particular social group” for purposes of an application for asylum or withholding of removal.  Though the holding of the decision narrowly overruled a previously-decided case from the Board of Immigration Appeals the Attorney General, largely through dicta, articulated and encouraged a very restrictive view of asylum law.  The decision posits that violence inflicted by private actors, rather than governments, is generally not the type of persecution that our asylum laws were intended to address.

There are many flaws, procedural and substantive, with the decision.  The odd procedure of the case suggests that the Attorney General was searching for a vehicle to render broad policy pronouncements to restrict asylum law.  The decision states that it is not minimizing the “vile abuse” that the woman in the case suffered in the form of domestic violence by her ex-husband.  Unfortunately, the way it elevates form over substance and erects barriers for women who have been so victimized suggests otherwise.  Most fundamentally, it applies a feeble, restrictive view of asylum law, somehow drawing perceived comfort from the rather hollow observation that “the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”

I believe that gender-based persecution is indeed the type of harm that our asylum laws should work to address.  It is well-established in international law that states have an obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, and punish actions by private actors. The U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women (DEVAW) states that governments are urged to “exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and, in accordance with national legislation, punish acts of violence against women, whether those acts are perpetrated by the State or by privates persons” (Art. 4(c)). General Recommendation No. 19 by the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) also provides that states may be “responsible for private acts if they fail to act with due diligence to prevent violations of rights or to investigate and punish acts of violence.” In my experience, allowing the asylum laws to protect people deprived of their basic human rights by private actors because of their gender is a powerful way for this country to stand up for the dignity of all people.  When we see this harm not as mere private acts of violence but as systematic persecution, we affirm the importance of human rights for all people.  The Attorney General’s decision, which seeks to set aside years of development of the law in order to make it more difficult for women to obtain protection, is misguided.  It will make it more difficult for women like the ones that I’ve represented to be safe and free.

The decision will make it harder, but certainly not impossible, to win these cases.  There are still helpful cases from Circuit Courts of Appeals across the country that support gender-based claims from private actor persecution.  Advocates may need to present more arguments and evidence that demonstrate governments’ failure to prevent the harms inflicted by private actors.  Use of expert witnesses to present this evidence may also be needed in more cases.  While the Attorney General’s decision is a significant setback, there are still many claims based on private actor persecution that should prevail.

In 1788, George Washington wrote “I had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable Asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong.”  We know, however, that the history of the US regarding the protection of refugees has been uneven, vacillating between openness and prioritizing human rights to times where we have turned our backs to the persecuted and failed to live up to our country’s ideals.  At times like this when we fall back, lawyers can make a difference by standing up for victims of human rights abuses.  By helping asylum seekers overcome the new hurdles placed by the Attorney General, and hopefully restoring the law to embody greater respect for freedom and human rights, we can enlist ourselves on the right side of history.  I am so glad that Nancy, Donna, Janet, Francis and others like them are safe.  But today asylum seekers, particularly women who have been victims of private actor violence, are going to need help more than ever.

Dean Eyler is Principal and Intellectual Property Litigation Chair at Gray Plant Mooty and a volunteer attorney with The Advocates for Human Rights.

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Dignity for All: World Day Against the Death Penalty highlights detention conditions on death row

“The best way to ensure someone does not leave prison is to make him into the person he was prosecuted as.” – Damon Thibodeaux, exoneree who spent 15 years on Louisiana’s death row

Imagine living in a 8 by 10 foot room with a steel or concrete slab for a bed.  The door is solid steel and the food tray slot at the bottom offers the only source of contact with the rest of the world. These are the kinds of conditions that many death row inmates in the United States endure for 23 hours a day. The Advocates highlighting the brutal living conditions for people on death row at a Continuing Legal Education event on October 10, the 16th annual World Day Against the Death Penalty. The event was hosted at the law firm of Fredrikson & Byron. During this talk, speakers contrasted current conditions in U.S. prisons with the minimum standards set by the Nelson Mandela Rules. Their presentations highlighted the physical and psychological consequences of those conditions on people sentenced to death in the United States.

The Nelson Mandela Rules, formerly known as the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, outline prison standards with relation to disciplinary measures, legal representation, and medical treatment. Amy Bergquist, staff attorney at The Advocates and Vice- President of The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, explained these rules and gave examples describing how they are seldom followed here in the United States and in other countries. For example, Rules 24-29 state that inmates have the right to access the same quality of healthcare that is available in the general community outside the prison. In many countries, including the U.S., healthcare for detained people is, however, grossly neglected in order to keep costs low. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ chief psychiatrist, close to 40% of inmates have mental illness while only 3% of them are being treated regularly. These services are typically provided only to inmates who had been diagnosed and were receiving treatment prior to their arrest, while people who develop symptoms or are diagnosed in prison are often overlooked.

When combining the substandard health care system in prisons with solitary confinement, prisoners are set up to play a self-fulfilling prophecy. Damon Thibodeaux, an exoneree who survived 15 years on Louisiana’s death row, described this degrading treatment during the World Day event.  He stated, “It is meant to break you down morally, mentally, and physically. It is meant to tear you down so they can paint you as the inhuman animal.” He detailed the unbearable heat in his small, unairconditioned cell during Louisiana summers, when the only way to cool off was to strip down and lie on the floor. Thibodeaux also described the communicable diseases that spread through the prison because of overcrowding. He explained that these diseases would often go untreated because inmates had to pay to see a healthcare provider and often faced long delays before receiving treatment.

Also speaking at the event was Lisa Borden, Baker Donelson’s Pro Bono Shareholder and an attorney who represents indigent death row inmates. Borden also described the prison conditions she has witnessed in the Alabama state prison system. She is currently representing detained clients in a class action lawsuit against the Alabama Department of Corrections. The district court found the mental health care services provided to prisoners are “horrendously inadequate”. One of the key problems, as Borden explained, is the privatization of healthcare in the prison system. Since the private health care providers are allocated a set amount of funding per person, they have an incentive to keep their costs low by using fewer resources.

Borden also shared the extreme conditions that prisoners who are not in solitary confinement routinely face. “Most facilities house 150-200% of the number of people for which they are designed.” These overcrowded conditions are worsened by staffing shortages, with some prisons having less than 40% of the recommended prison staff.  In addition, prisons in Alabama are old, with dilapidated structures.  Borden shared an account where a prisoner died in his cell after his neighboring cellmate reported his unresponsiveness. Due to the prison’s malfunctioning electronic locking system, the officers were not able to reach him until 30 minutes after they were notified.

This event highlighted the human rights violations faced by people sentenced to death, as well as by other detained individuals, in the United States. To learn more about living conditions on death row around the world, see http://www.worldcoalition.org/worldday.html

By Elshaday Yilma, Lutheran Volunteer Corps member and The Advocates’ International Justice Program Assistant

United States General Assembly. (2016). United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules). Retrieved from https://www.unodc.org/documents/justice-and-prison-reform/GA-RESOLUTION/E_ebook.pdf

United States Department of Justice. (2017). Review of the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ Use of Restrictive Housing for Inmates with Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2017/e1705.pdf

University of Texas School of Law Human Rights Clinic. (2017). Designed to Break You: Human Rights Violations on Texas’ Death Row. Retrieved from https://law.utexas.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2017/04/2017-HRC-DesignedToBreakYou-Report.pdf

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Remembering and Honoring Our Remarkable Friend and Advocate, Marlene Kayser

Marlene Kayser

 

 

“My travels with The Advocates began with a trip to Beijing, China, in 1995, for the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women. Experiencing the hope, beauty, determination, and power of the women there inspired me. I came home committed to work even harder for women’s rights.” – Marlene Kayser

 

 

 

 

We have lost an amazing Advocates’ family member, Marlene Kayser. Marlene served on the board, co-chaired our Women’s Program advisory committee, and volunteered for more than 20 years. Volunteers are the lifeblood of the organization and no one exemplified this value more than Marlene. Starting with our delegation to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, Marlene set the gold standard for volunteers. That event was an extraordinary gathering of women from every corner of the world. One of our goals was to learn as much as we could about the global women’s human rights movement. Marlene was a master connector and networker. She helped us establish and foster relationships that are still an important part of our work today.

Marlene was a tireless advocate. She rolled up her sleeves and got the work done at the same time inspiring the rest of us to keep going. Marlene worked in countries transitioning to democracy after the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe. She worked with us in Bulgaria to document sexual harassment and workplace discrimination. On another trip we documented domestic violence and the government’s response in Macedonia. The resulting reports from this research were used in advocacy to pass important new laws and policies protecting women in both of these countries.

Marlene was masterful in sharing her own experience with advocacy, organizing and fundraising. She also shared creative ideas with the rest of us that improved all our training skills. She was part of laying the groundwork for the amazing network of activists in the region today.

For more than 20 years, Marlene has helped steer our fundraising efforts at The Advocates. No job was too big or too small. She modeled the successful house party organizing that we now use with all of our programs.

Marlene took on making the silent auction at our annual awards dinner world class. She had the unique gift of knowing exactly what will appeal to people of all ages. It came to be known that “Marlene is always right.” Her baskets and item selections always got the most or highest bids.

It is not enough to work hard, but as Marlene taught us, we have a lot to learn from those who have more experience and we need to respect that expertise.

We will miss Marlene dearly.

Protecting Victims: The Only Way to End Human Trafficking

FeaturedProtecting Victims: The Only Way to End Human Trafficking

This past August 8th, several black SUVs sped into Christensen Farms in Sleepy Eye, Minnesota, blocking the entrances. As the car doors opened, dozens of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents emerged and surrounded the offices. It was the culmination of a 15-month long investigation and they’d come to arrest people suspected of a criminal conspiracy to hire and exploit undocumented immigrants.

That day, similar scenes played out at other farms and businesses across Nebraska, Minnesota, and Nevada. In total, 17 business owners were arrested. According to the ICE press release, the alleged ring of conspirators knowingly hired immigrants who did not have documentation and then exploited those individuals through coercive measures. More specifically, the owners allegedly forced these workers to cash their paychecks for a fee at illegal businesses, deducted taxes from their paychecks without actually paying those taxes to the government, and coerced the workers into staying silent through use of force and threats of arrest and deportation.

The ICE press release never mentions it, but federal law has a name for this crime: human trafficking.

On its face, it seems like this operation should have given The Advocates and other organizations working to end human trafficking a cause to celebrate. Unfortunately, it didn’t. That’s because these 17 arrests were accompanied by another 133; in addition to arresting the perpetrators of the crime, ICE also arrested the victims.

In other words, even though the people in question had suffered this abuse, and even though there are federal laws in place specifically designed to protect victims of human trafficking, ICE continued to pursue the Trump administration’s tenacious mission to deport all “illegal aliens.” Instead of help and compassion, these victims were met with detention and the looming threat of deportation, and were painted as identity thieves.

From a humanitarian perspective, this type of treatment is certainly shocking and clearly the wrong move. The fact that these are victims of human trafficking, however, makes this heartless response not only cruel but also counterproductive.

While they were still working on the farms, these individuals were kept from leaving or reporting the exploitative situation by the owners’ threats: do anything to stop us and you’ll be arrested and deported. When they arrested these victims and charged them with deportability, ICE followed through on the perpetrators’ threats.

As highlighted in The Advocates’ soon-to-be-released protocol on effective responses to labor trafficking, this type of response sends a message to other trafficking victims that the law is not there to protect them, but rather stands on the side of the traffickers. Ultimately, instead of feeling empowered to speak out, other victims will be even more likely to keep silent and continue to live, work, and suffer in fear. This end result is precisely why the federal protections for trafficking victims were created and why following them is essential to ending this modern form of slavery.

Put another way, rather than helping to end human trafficking in the United States, ICE’s actions ensure that it will continue. One thing is clear: if our country wants to deal effectively with this severe human rights violation, ICE needs to drastically change its approach.

By Rachel Adler, Research, Education, and Advocacy Intern at The Advocates for Human Rights

Sources:

Beck, Margery A. “Immigration Raids in Nebraska, Minnesota Target Businesses.” Star Tribune. August 9, 2018. http://www.startribune.com/immigration-raids-in-nebraska-minnesota-target-businesses/490389421/

Boldan, Kelly. “ICE Raids Target Businesses in Minnesota, Nebraska, Appleton Facility is among Christensen Farm Locations Raided.” West Central Tribune. August 8, 2018. http://wctrib.com/business/agriculture/4483330-ice-raids-target-businesses-minnesota-nebraska-appleton-facility-among

Planos, Josh. “ICE Executes Federal Search Warrants in Nebraska, Minnesota, Nevada.” KETV. August 9, 2018. https://www.ketv.com/article/immigration-raid-underway-in-oneill/22676364

Smith, Mary Lynn and Stephen Montemayor. “Big Minnesota Pork Producer ‘Surprised’ by Immigration Raids.” Star Tribune. August 10, 2018. http://www.startribune.com/more-than-130-arrested-in-immigration-raids-in-minnesota-nebraska/490470901/

United States, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “ICE Executes Federal Search Warrants in Nebraska, Minnesota and Nevada.” August 8, 2018. https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/ice-executes-federal-search-warrants-nebraska-minnesota-and-nevada

Human Rights Education in the U.S. is About to Get a Boost

FeaturedHuman Rights Education in the U.S. is About to Get a Boost

Within the next two years, Massachusetts K-12 students will delve more deeply into the ins-and-outs of international human rights in their history and social studies classrooms. New readings and lesson plans will focus on international human rights treaties, cover a variety of human rights movements both inside and outside the United States, and include more comprehensive discussions on the topic of discrimination. Students will be exposed to human rights concepts from the earliest grades, with the material gradually increasing in complexity through high school.

This is thanks in part to a new initiative on the part of The Advocates for Human Rights and our partner Human Rights Educators USA (HRE USA) that seeks to improve human rights education in schools across the country. To this end, with the help of a team of dedicated volunteers, we evaluated how each state’s social studies standards handle the subject of human rights. Alongside this, we gathered information on when those standards will be updated and how the public can provide input on changes, so that we could act on our findings. First up was Massachusetts. We reviewed their proposed social studies standards and submitted our feedback. Happily, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education took our comments to heart. The end result is a curriculum that invests additional time and energy into teaching human rights.

These changes are about much more than facts and figures. Human rights education significantly impacts the life of each individual child. When they understand what their and others’ rights are, children can more easily identify human rights violations and take action accordingly. Even at a young age, they can begin to tackle issues like prejudice and inequality and become more aware of what’s going on around them. Research confirms this. In schools that instituted human rights programming, students developed an ability to analyze their lives through the prism of human rights, were more motivated toward action, and had a deeper appreciation of diversity and inclusion. [1] [2]

Introducing this type of material during these formative years may also increase children’s social awareness. Schools that incorporated human rights education reported that students showed an increase in tolerance, empathy, and respect. Bullying decreased and students exhibited more respectful behavior toward both their teachers and other students. Additionally, students became more engaged in their schoolwork and felt increased confidence in their academic ability. [3] [4]

Equally as important is the impact human rights education at the K-12 level can have on our country’s future. Imbuing our children with a meaningful and deep understanding of these topics is essential if we want to build a culture where human rights are respected. Imagine a world where all of the refugees at our border were treated with dignity, where everyone had access to sufficient food and housing, where racial and gender equality gaps had closed, and where the prison population was small and treated with dignity. This may sound utopian but the more we teach today’s children to see human rights as vital, the more such a world becomes a possible future, since tomorrow’s leaders will be more likely to prioritize human rights.

Unfortunately, in spite of these many benefits, our review process of existing state social studies standards revealed that most states provide little human rights education and eight states do not cover the subject at all. This means that even when teachers see the value of human rights education, there’s little they can do since they must cover state guidelines and standards before adding optional content like human rights. In Massachusetts, those very standards now give more weight to human rights education, ensuring that children will engage with this powerful topic. States with upcoming review periods include North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas. We look forward to achieving similar results in these states and others as we continue to engage in this process.

A huge thank you to all of the talented volunteers who helped to make this a reality. We couldn’t accomplish this without you!

By Rachel Adler, Research, Education, and Advocacy Intern at The Advocates for Human Rights

[1] Bajaj, M. (2011) Teaching to Transform, Transforming to Teach: Exploring the Role of Teachers in Human Rights Education in India, Educational Research, 53 (2), 207-221,

[2] Sebba, J. and Robinson, C. (2010) Evaluation of UNICEF UK’s Rights Respecting School Award. London: UNICEF UK.

[3] Covell, K. (2010) School Engagement and Rights-Respecting Schools, Cambridge Journal of Education, 40 (1) 39-51

[4] Tibbits, F. (2010) Impact Assessment of the Rights Education Action Programme (REAP). Final Report Submitted to Amnesty International Norway. HREA.

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Remembering Our Friend and Advocate, Arvonne Fraser

Arvonne Fraser 2012

“I was ready for the new women’s movement when it emerged and turned my talents and experience to it. Defying expectations, taking risks, and seeking what I could do beyond near horizons became my sport…It’s thrilling to imagine the possibilities that await my grandchildren—and you readers. This is my story. I wrote it to encourage other women to live fully and write theirs.” – Arvonne Fraser (from her memoir entitled “She’s No Lady”)
 

The human rights world has lost a giant. Arvonne Fraser inspired women’s human rights activists across the globe. She encouraged multiple generations of women to find their voices to make their lives better and improve the world. She helped develop international standards for the protection of women and was a tireless advocate herself. In addition to work on international human rights, Arvonne leaves a long legacy in many different arenas, including government, academia, and nonprofit.

She and her husband, Don, influenced our work at The Advocates for Human Rights from the very beginning.  In their honor, the Don and Arvonne Fraser Human Rights Award is presented annually to an outstanding individual or organization promoting human rights. Arvonne’s legacy will live on through the many human rights activists she influenced, both in Minnesota and around the world. This year’s awardee, Jane Connors, spoke of the immense importance of her work in realizing the implementation of the human rights of women through the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

“It is hard to overstate Arvonne’s impact. I have met people from the far corners of the world who when they learned I was from Minnesota, told me wonderful stories about how Arvonne has influenced them in their work,” states Robin Phillips, Executive Director of The Advocates for Human Rights.

We will miss Arvonne dearly.

Read the Star Tribune article about Arvonne.

The Government is Dragging Us Back Decades in the Protection of Women’s Human Rights

FeaturedThe Government is Dragging Us Back Decades in the Protection of Women’s Human Rights

In my 25 years as a human rights advocate, I have learned that it is very difficult to be female in many parts of the world.  In spite of this reality, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is dragging us back decades in the protection of women’s human rights. His recent rejection of the decision in the Matter of A-B shows a callous disregard for the lived experiences of women.

In many countries, girls are aborted or killed as infants solely because they are female. Some die during traditional rituals such as female genital mutilation. Other girls are married off as children, trafficked for sex, or sold as domestic servants. As adults, women face violence in their homes, the streets, or at the hands of their governments. Some women are prohibited from doing certain kinds of work by archaic labor laws developed based on stereotypes and prejudices about women. Others endure harassment and demeaning work conditions just to make a living.

It took the United Nations more than 45 years to acknowledge women’s rights as human rights and violence against women as a human rights violation. It long ago acknowledged that governments are accountable for the human rights they commit as well as those they systematically fail to prevent. Kofi Annan identified violence against women as the most widespread human rights abuse in the world. Governments around the world have slowly been adopting laws to address violence, but we see enormous difficulties in properly implementing laws to provide adequate protections.

This new recognition that legal protections should reflect the experiences of women was slowly being reflected in refugee and asylum law in the United States. Over the past two decades we have seen the definition of social group, an identified group who should be protected from persecution, extended to victims of domestic violence when their government cannot or will not protect them. These life-saving developments recognized that previous interpretations of the l aw ignored these human rights abuses against women.  Domestic violence is not a family matter, it is a global epidemic and the stakes could not be higher.

Another thing I learned is that governments around the world are failing women. I have heard countless stories over the years about women calling the police or presenting themselves to prosecutors seeking protection from abusive spouses. They are taunted, ignored, and turned away. We have seen some improvement in laws and practices, but they have not stemmed the tide of abuse and women are still being injured and killed at alarming rates.  In some cases, women are ignored because their husbands are police officers, military or high ranking government officials. In other cases, the women are just not believed.

I remember one particularly compelling interview when I first started doing this work. A beautiful young woman in prison in Albania told me about the violence and abuse she experienced at the hands of her husband. He bruised her, broke her bones and made her bleed until she fainted. She tried over and over again to get help from the police and the prosecutors and was routinely turned away and told it was a family matter. After a particularly brutal beating that left her unconscious, she woke to the sight of her husband preparing to sexually assault their daughter. She leapt to her daughter’s defense, attacking her husband. He died as a result of the injuries. She was prosecuted and sentenced to prison for the man’s death. This woman, repeatedly failed by her own government, would not be provided asylum by our government today if Jeff Sessions has his way. It is up to all of us to make sure he doesn’t.

Robin Phillips is the executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights. She is an attorney and has written extensively about human rights, including trafficking in women, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.

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“Go Home & Work It Out With Your Husband”: Why Sessions’ Ruling On Asylum Is So Devastating for Women Fleeing Domestic Violence

Woman covering face with handSome years ago, before the United States recognized that domestic violence was grounds for asylum, I represented a woman who was seeking asylum due to years of brutal violence inflicted upon her by her husband and the failure of her government to protect her.

“Ann” was a successful business person from East Africa who had experienced sexual, physical, psychological and emotional violence so extreme that she went to the police for help. Their response?

“Sorry, but this is a family matter – not a police matter. You have children. Go home and work it out with your husband. It will be better for all of you.”

So she went home. Her husband beat her until she passed out from the pain and blood loss as punishment for going to the police.

Because her business was so successful, she had the chance to expand the business to a neighboring country. She took the kids and moved, leaving no forwarding address. But he eventually found her there and, with support from the police, strongly “encouraged” her to move back to her country with the children. His family, as well as hers, also put pressure on her to stay in the marriage.

I met Ann because her husband was studying in the U.S. The beatings had intensified after the family moved here and she had called The Advocates for help. We had to meet to prepare the asylum application, but her husband, wary of her meeting with Americans, controlled where she went. We found surreptitious meeting places like the coffee shop near the daycare center so he would not suspect.

Perhaps others are not familiar with how much work goes into preparing a case for asylum in the United States. Asylum seekers must show, through both credible testimony and documentary evidence, that 1) they have a well-founded fear of persecution; 2) on the basis of political opinion, race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group; and 3) their government cannot or will not protect them. It is not an easy thing to do, to fit all the facts of your life and your fear into the narrow frame of U.S. asylum law (which is, in fact, U.S. implementation of our obligations under the International Refugee Convention).

As we were getting close to filing her application, Ann asked me to meet her in front the building where she was taking a class. I picked her up there once or twice, no problem, and we went to the library to work on her affidavit. But when I pulled up the next time, she was standing in front of the building holding her baby and looking nervous.  She made eye contact and shook her head.

“No,” she mouthed.  “Go.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man coming towards her. My overall impression was a fast-moving blur of anger and intimidation.  I looked away from Ann and hit the accelerator. I couldn’t speed off – I was a human rights lawyer working for a nonprofit and my old car had zero acceleration – so I could see from her expression that it would do more harm than good if I stopped and tried to help.

I still am a human rights lawyer working for a nonprofit and I still drive an old car with zero acceleration.  Every once in a while, when I look in the rearview mirror, I think of Ann and remember that day. The sight of him yelling at her, fist raised… this is the closest I have ever come to witnessing domestic violence and it is the closest that I ever hope to be.  I waited on pins and needles until she called me late that night after he fell asleep. He had beaten her again but she was still alive.

We filed her asylum application not long after. She testified truthfully and credibly at her interview about the persecution she suffered, how she tried to leave but he tracked her down in another country, and about her government’s unwillingness to protect her from harm. The Asylum Officer asked the question that many people unfamiliar with the power and control dynamics of domestic violence ask victims: “Why do you stay with him if he beats you?”

Her answer was simple.

“Because I have tried to leave and he always finds me and brings me back. Then the beatings get worse. I am afraid every day that he will kill me. Then what will happen to my children?”

The day Ann was granted asylum, she took the children and left to begin a new life in safety and dignity as an American.

Ann was not the first domestic violence victim granted asylum in the U.S. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, an increasing number of adjudicators granted asylum to individuals fleeing persecution by non-State actors that the government was unable or unwilling to control.  These were cases of individuals fleeing domestic violence, traditional harmful practices like FGM, and violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  In 2014, the federal Board of Immigration Appeals issued a precedential decision (Matter of A-R-C-G-) that people like Ann could be granted asylum based on persecution on account of a particular social group.

Now Attorney General Jeff Sessions has overturned that ruling and years of jurisprudence by announcing that victims of domestic violence and other persecution by private actors “generally” do not qualify for asylum. The attorney general announced his decision in Matter of A-B-, a case in which he invoked a rarely used power to personally intervene and certify to himself for reconsideration after the Board of Immigration Appeals reversed and remanded to the immigration judge with an order to grant asylum. The case concerns a woman from El Salvador who fled 15 years of sexual, physical, psychological and emotional violence that her government failed to protect her from.

What I would like my fellow Americans to know is this:

International law recognizes that asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable and deserving of protection.

The international refugee protection system was set up as a result of the horrors of World War II, when Jewish refugees attempted to flee and were returned to Nazi death camps.

When people present themselves at the U.S. border and ask for asylum, they are not breaking the law. They are acting lawfully. They are following the process established by federal statute. They are exercising their fundamental human right to seek asylum from persecution.

The attorney general is by fiat attempting to return U.S. asylum law to a time when domestic violence was seen as a “family matter.” This is only the latest salvo in the administration’s all-out war against refugees and asylum seekers. It is connected to the “Zero Tolerance” immigration policy and should be seen in that context.

From a global perspective, Sessions’ move is in line with efforts in Russia and other countries around the world to undermine protections against domestic violence. I recently traveled to Moldova to train women’s human rights defenders who have seen the rising tide of “family values” throughout Russia, former Soviet republics, and Eastern Europe, as laws are passed decriminalizing domestic violence.

My client Ann was granted asylum on the basis of her social group of women from her country who have experienced extreme sexual, physical and emotional domestic violence, (which the UN Committee against Torture recognizes as “torture”), who are unable to escape their abuser and who the government is unable or unwilling to protect. It was only due to the permanent legal status she gained through the U.S. asylum system that she was able to take her children and leave her abusive husband, and start a new life for her family as Americans.

Mr. Session’s attempt to unilaterally narrow the definition of who is eligible for asylum from persecution ignores existing U.S. law and jurisprudence.  Further, it violates international law and US treaty obligations. In interpreting the Refugee Convention, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has issued advisory opinions stating that domestic violence victims are potentially part of a social group. It turns back the clock to a time women fleeing gender-based persecution were not given refugee protection.

In my experience, when people have the chance to actually meet and get to know refugees and asylum seekers – and even other migrants who are coming for reasons of family reunification or work – they don’t say things like Mr. Sessions wrote in his opinion in Matter of A.B., “Yet the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune.”

People who know asylum seekers fleeing domestic violence say things like, “She’s a really good person, just doing the best that she can for her family. She is trapped and has to get out of this violent situation. What can I do to help her?”

Before taking it upon himself personally to change well-established asylum law and practice, I really wish that Mr. Sessions could have met my client Ann. Or maybe even A.B. or others impacted by his decision.

By Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights.

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“Zero-Tolerance” Policy, in Tearing Families Apart, is Inhumane and Illegal

As Father’s Day approaches, I keep thinking about one father in particular from Guatemala who is over 2,000 miles away from his 8-year-old daughter. Last week, that little girl told me about the day she was torn from her father’s arms at the border. In tears, they begged the Border Patrol officer to let them stay together.  Months later this little girl, now in the custody of a caregiver, cries herself to sleep, worries constantly about her family, and feels helpless.

I am an immigration attorney who helps people apply for asylum in the United States. But when this little girl came to me, it was to ask me how fast I could help her get deported so she could return to her family.

This is exactly what the Trump administration seeks to achieve in tearing apart families at the border and criminally prosecuting “100 percent” of undocumented border crossers. According to Attorney General Sessions’ recent comments, the intent is to deter asylum seekers from pursuing protections to which they are entitled under U.S. law.  This “zero-tolerance” policy not only is inhumane, it is illegal. U.S. law and international treaty obligations both guarantee the right to seek asylum.

Many of our nation’s founders came to this country seeking refuge, to worship their God and express their political beliefs without fear of repression by their government or society. In that spirit, Congress enacted a pathway to protection for those who could demonstrate that they faced persecution in their home country because of a fundamental aspect of their identity, such as their race, religion, ethnicity, political opinion, or other characteristics. Recognizing that many fleeing for their lives may be forced to leave home before they can obtain a visa, U.S. asylum law explicitly states that a person who “arrives” at our borders “whether or not at a designated a port of arrival … may apply for asylum.”

Asylum is not just a reflection of our nation’s most fundamental values—it is also a reflection of the priorities of the international community. The right to asylum was established in the late 1940’s following the Holocaust. The member states of the United Nations, with the explicit leadership of the United States, created formal protocols to protect refugees.

Given the rhetoric, it might surprise people to learn that asylum seekers face enormous legal obstacles to protection. The majority of claims are denied (even before Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned years of asylum case law for victims of domestic violence this week).

According to Sessions, the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy means that every undocumented border crosser will be criminally prosecuted and that parents bringing their children to the U.S. to protect them from death threats will be prosecuted for smuggling.

This “zero tolerance” violates the fundamental right, enshrined in international treaty and codified in our own U.S. law, to seek asylum from persecution. It violates the right to family integrity, recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as a fundamental liberty interest. (See e.g. Supreme Court case Troxville v. Granville). It violates the right to due process of law.

To punish asylum seekers by taking away their children is exceptionally cruel. It’s also inefficient, creating duplication in a system already plagued by backlogs by requiring asylum seekers whose claims could otherwise by addressed together (parents and children) to present their factually identical claims in different immigration courts across the country.

Children like my bright little 8-year-old client, as well as their fathers and mothers, deserve our most zealous efforts to protect them from these cruel and illegal policies which purposefully deprive them of the right to seek and obtain asylum.  Many studies show that the majority of those presenting themselves at the Southern border have legitimate claims for humanitarian protection under international law.  Americans of all backgrounds must understand that these policies are not only inhumane, they are illegal.

As Father’s Day approaches, please stand with these families. For those whose ancestors came to the US as refugees, as asylum seekers, remember how your own family members made their journey to this country and the American welcome you would have wanted your family member to have.  Show our leaders that Americans believe that separating parents from their children at the border is illegal. Tell our leaders that you believe in the right to seek asylum.

Now is the time to come forward and stand in real solidarity with impacted immigrant communities. Please support organizations that represent these families and children on the border and when released, like The Advocates for Human Rights, the CARA Pro Bono Project  and the Migrant Center for Human Rights.  If you’re a legal professional or speak a second language, get involved with helping a child or family seeking asylum. Follow our blog for updates on advocating for separated families. Contact us and other local organizations that work with immigrants to learn how you can most effectively support your local immigrant communities in this time where their fundamental rights are under attack.

Alison Griffith is a Staff Attorney for The Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee & Immigrant Program.

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Welcome Home Blog Series: English-Speaking Cameroonians Work to Highlight Human Rights Abuses

Blog Picture 2
Partners in Hope for Southern Cameroons Refugees, a new nonprofit, raises money to send containers of goods from Minnesota to English-speaking Cameroonian refugees in Nigeria.

Minnesota is home to a wide variety of immigrants who fled violence and oppression in their home countries, but some groups are better known than others. Roger Akembom, who has volunteered for The Advocates, wants to draw attention to some residents who have attracted little political or media attention: his fellow English-speakers from Cameroon, in central western Africa.

Cameroon is a predominantly French-speaking country whose government, according to human-rights watchdogs, has committed serious abuses against residents of the former Southern Cameroons, two Anglophone regions that comprise about 20 percent of the population. These include forced disappearances, arbitrary detentions, mass arrests, excessive force by security services, bans on public meetings, and periodic government restrictions on internet access.

Akembom, whose father was a political prisoner, arrived in the U.S. about 17 years ago and won asylum. He says he is among more than 5,000 English-speaking Cameroonians who have settled in Minnesota. But people here are more familiar with larger populations like the Somalis, he says: “There are other immigrant groups like mine. We are facing the same issues.”

He and other Anglophone Cameroonians have been working to raise awareness among policymakers and the public about the dire situation facing their compatriots. One area of deep concern: the tens of thousands of people who have fled to Nigeria to escape military crackdowns. Those escalated last Oct. 1, when Anglophones staged protests about their marginalization in society and activists declared independence for a state they call Ambazonia. Security forces killed more than 17 protesters, according to Amnesty International. (The government argues it needs to take strong action to fight “terrorists” who are waging an armed insurrection and have killed members of security forces.)

Akembum says the refugees need food, medicine, clothing, hygiene products, and money to pay for hospital care. Minnesota Cameroonians have just launched a new nonprofit, Partners in Hope for Southern Cameroons Refugees (PHOSCAR), to ship goods and pay for services at Holy Family Catholic Hospital, in Ikom, Nigeria. Many of the refugees have no money, Okembuom says, and “this is a new country to them; they don’t have transferable skills.”

PHOSCAR will work with a nonprofit that is on the ground in Nigeria. A group called The Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Women of Minnesota raised about $11,000 for the refugees at a fundraising gala last month. For more information about PHOSCAR, email info@phoscarelief.org.

French speakers in Cameroon are also victims of human-rights abuses by the government of Paul Biya, who has held power for 35 years. The Advocates has helped 87 Cameroonian clients in the past 10 years with asylum claims. In 2017, it accepted 13 cases, the highest number in any given year over the past decade, says Sarah Brenes, Director of the Refugee and Immigrant Program. While she didn’t have hard numbers, she believes the majority of the claims have come from Anglophones.

Akembum says a major problem for Cameroonian immigrants is integrating into society. Many are highly educated, he says, but have trouble finding work to match their qualifications. He cites himself as an example: he earned a master’s degree in public policy at St. Thomas University but is working at the post office.

Meanwhile, he is working with other members of the Cameroonian diaspora in the United States who advocate independence for the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest Regions, which activists call by the historical name “Southern Cameroons.” They argue that option was wrongfully denied to Anglophones when Cameroon became independent from France and the United Kingdom in the 1960s. Anglophone representatives ended up negotiating a federalist ystem that was supposed to grant them a large degree of autonomy, but over the years the central government has consolidated power.

For more information about that history, see “Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis at the Crossroads” by the International Crisis Group.

For information on human rights abuses in Cameroon, see “Press Release on the human rights situation in Cameroon,” African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights; Cameroon: human rights must be respected to end cycle of violence – UN experts, ReliefWeb; Cameroon 2017 Human Rights Report, U.S. State Department.

By Suzanne Perry, a volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights

This article is part of the “Welcome Home” blog series featuring articles about groups that represent diaspora communities in Minnesota. The first blog posts highlighted the contributions of the Karen Organization of Minnesota, the United Cambodian Association of Minnesota,   and the Oromo Peace and Justice Committee.  If you would like to tell your story, please contact Amy Bergquist at abergquist@advrights.org.
Continue reading “Welcome Home Blog Series: English-Speaking Cameroonians Work to Highlight Human Rights Abuses”

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World Day Against Child Labour

Nepal school
Photo of students at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School in Nepal                                 (Credit: David Parker)

Young children in developing and conflict-ridden nations remain the most economically, socially, and politically marginalized individuals on this planet.  These children are often forced to work at the expense of getting any sort of formal education. June 12 is the annual World Day Against Child LabourThe goal of this initiative is to “shine a spotlight on the global need to improve the safety and health of young workers,” as well as to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) goal of eliminating all forms of child labor by 2025.

The World Day Against Child Labour exists as a reminder of the obligations that nation-states and individuals have under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), which includes: the right to be protected from exploitation and harmful work, the right to be protected from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, and the right to be protected from physical or mental violence.

The International Labour Organization has reported on a steady decrease in child labor over the last decade, yet the number of young boys and girls still in child labor—often in hazardous and developmentally debilitating conditions—ought to serve as a stark reminder of our obligations to protect and aid the most vulnerable among us. Here are the facts about child labor in the world, according to the International Labor Organization’s Global estimates of child labour: Results and trends, 2012-2016 report:

  • On any given day in 2016, 152 million children aged 5-17 years old were in child labor;
  • 73 million of those children work in hazardous conditions;
  • Almost half of the world’s laboring children are between the ages of 5 and 11 years old.

 The Advocates’ Work to End Child Labor in Nepal

In Nepal, an estimated 1.6 million Nepali children between the ages of 5 and 14 are child laborers.   According to the 2013/14 Annual Household Survey on Nepal, nearly 48% of Nepali children aged 10-14 years old were in child labor.

Children in Nepal work in in dangerous conditions in brickyards, carpet factories, and quarries, or in agricultural and domestic work. Nepali children are also vulnerable to being trafficked to India. Due to administrative and school-related fees, poor children in Nepal are at risk of forgoing an education and laboring in these dangerous conditions.

This is why The Advocates for Human Rights has worked since 1999 to end child labor in the Sankhu-Palubari community in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley.  The Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS) in Nepal provides a free education — from pre-K through grade 10 — to the neediest children in this rural Kathmandu Valley area. Founded by The Advocates for Human Rights and operated in partnership with Educate the Children-Nepal and the local community, the school provides a high quality education as a genuine alternative to child labor and offers a brighter future to those in need.  The school currently serves 353 students and has achieved gender parity as 52% of the students are girls. Students also receive a daily meal and health and dental check-ups.

The Advocates for Human Rights supports SPCS through private donations. It costs only $250 to educate a child for one year. On this World Day Against Child Labour, please consider supporting the school and helping a child receive an education, escape child labor, and end the cycle of poverty.

Schools, businesses, and community organizations can also help by raising awareness about the problem of child labor. To become involved or for more information, contact The Advocates for Human Rights at 612-341-3302 or Hrights@advrights.org

 

By Ryan Atkinson, a University of Minnesota student majoring in Political Science.  He is a 2018 Don Fraser Human Rights Fellow with the International Justice Program of The Advocates for Human Rights.

 

People are breaking U.S. immigration law at the border, but it’s not asylum seekers – it’s the U.S. government.

FeaturedPeople are breaking U.S. immigration law at the border, but it’s not asylum seekers – it’s the U.S. government.

The effects of the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy have been immediate and tragic. Just two months after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance” policy for people arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border and a month after he made clear this would mean parents arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border would be prosecuted for illegal entry and their children taken away, story after story of separated families have appeared. Mr. Sessions also made clear that this zero-tolerance policy applies even to those seeking asylum.

So it’s no surprise that reports of U.S. border guards refusing to allow asylum seekers to make their claims continue to emerge.

People seeking asylum are following the law, not breaking it.

Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. This is the law – both under international law and federal statute. Recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and spelled out in the 1951 Refugee Convention , the United States made good on its commitment to the this principle in 1980 when the Refugee Act was signed into law.

This right ensures that people fleeing persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group have a chance to make their claim before being returned to death, torture, imprisonment, or other human rights violations.

The moral and human cost of ignoring this fundamental human right is high. Witness the voyage of the St. Louis in 1939, when U.S. immigration law’s restrictive immigration quotas resulted in the return of 532 passengers to continental Europe, 254 of whom died during the Holocaust.

U.S. border officials violate the law when they turn back asylum seekers without a hearing.

In the aftermath of World War II, the world community recognized that a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.[1] That principle, known to refugee policy wonks as “non-refoulement,” is now a rule of customary international law.[2]

Refusing to allow people to make their asylum claims, as U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials reportedly did this week in El Paso, violates U.S. law and violates U.S. treaty obligations. These complaints are not new or isolated: last summer, for example, the American Immigration Council challenged CBP’s unlawful practice of turning away asylum seekers arriving in California. The case remains pending.

The administration’s efforts to prosecute of asylum seekers who appear at ports-of-entry and separate them from their children also violate international law. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani rebuked the U.S. in a June 5 statement:

“The current policy in the United States of separating ‘extremely young children’ from their asylum-seeker or migrant parents along the country’s southern border ‘always constitutes a child rights violation.’” [3]

A federal judge agrees that the administration’s practice may violate the U.S. Constitution. In a ruling earlier this week, the judge denied the government’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the ACLU challenging the practice.

While the administration claims it wants immigrants to “follow the law,” it seems blind to the fact that people who appear at ports-of-entry and claim asylum In addition to The Refugee Convention also prohibits the U.S. from imposing penalties on asylum seekers on account of their illegal entry or presence.[4] In order to deter asylum seekers from coming to the United States.

We need zero tolerance for human rights violations, not for people seeking asylum.

We need zero tolerance for public policy based on hate, racism, and xenophobia. While the administration’s new policies are ripping families apart and denying people their fundamental right to seek asylum, the policies have not slowed the arrival of people seeking protection. More than 50,000 people were arrested crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in May, the third month in a row with more than 50,000 arrests. A report by the Vera Institute of Justice released this week found no evidence that criminal prosecutions led to a decline in apprehensions along the Southwest border.

This is hardly surprising. People fleeing for their lives don’t consult presidential Twitter feeds or check Justice Department press releases. Like good parents everywhere, they go where they hope their children will be able to grow up in safety, protected by the rule of law and the principles of human rights.

[1] 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, Article 33(1).

[2] Customary international law is

[3] While the United States stands alone among the world’s nations as the only country not to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, international law is clear that the family is entitled to respect and protection. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, article 16(3), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966, article 23(1), and American Convention on Human Rights, 1969, article 17(1) each state that ‘The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’.  European Social Charter, 1961, article 16, ‘With a view to ensuring the necessary conditions for the full development of the family, which is a fundamental unit of society, the Contracting Parties undertake to promote the economic, legal and social protection of family life ….’ African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, 1981, article 18(1) ‘The family shall be the natural unit and basis of society.  It shall be protected by the State which shall take care of its physical and moral health.’

[4] 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, Article 31 (1).

Take Action to End the Separation of Immigrant Families

FeaturedTake Action to End the Separation of Immigrant Families

As #WhereAreTheChildren trended over the Memorial Day weekend, many people asked what they can do to protect children who have fled to the United States. Here are 5 things to know and do.

Number 1: Demand the end of family separation as a weapon to deter people from seeking asylum. In early April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a “zero-tolerance policy” for illegal entry into the United States, taking away prosecutorial discretion from U.S. attorneys Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas by mandating criminal prosecution of anyone who attempts to enter the United States without authorization including – and in violation of Article 31 of the 1951 Refugee Convention – asylum seekers. A month later, Sessions, along with the Department of Homeland Security, spelled out the impact of that policy: “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.” Call your congressional representatives to urge Congress to take action to end this practice.

Number 2: Take part in the #FamiliesBelongTogether National Day of Action . Actions are being organized around the country. (If you’re in the Twin Cities, lawyers are organizing a meet-up at the Hennepin County Government Center fountain on Friday at noon. Bring your friends. Bring a sign. Bring a lunch. Consider wearing white. There won’t be any program. We just want to gather a big group to show that the community believes America must treat every person with respect.)

Number 3: Don’t call for more surveillance and tracking of immigrant children. The “missing” children are not missing. These children’s adult sponsors – family members or others with whom they had a preexisting relationship – may not have answered the phone when the federal government called. As The New York Times, in one of the many attempts to make sense of the story, reported over the weekend:

“Officials at the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees refugee resettlement, began making calls last year to determine what had happened to 7,635 children the government had helped place between last October and the end of the year.

From these calls, officials learned that 6,075 children remained with their sponsors. Twenty-eight had run away, five had been removed from the United States and 52 had relocated to live with a nonsponsor. The rest were unaccounted for, giving rise to the 1,475 number. It is possible that some of the adult sponsors simply chose not to respond to the agency.”

Number 4: Urge Congress to pass the HELP Separated Children Act. Led by Senator Tina Smith and Rep. Roybal-Allard, the HELP Separated Children Act would provide basic protection to children whose parents are facing deportation. Learn more about the bill here.

Number 5: Demand that children seeking safety in our country are treated humanely. A new ACLU report based on thousands of pages of documents show “breathtaking” misconduct, abuse, and neglect of children coupled with a reprehensible failure of accountability. These documents cover 2009-2014, showing that the Obama administration bears the blame for creating the system being deployed against families today. You can sign the ACLU petition calling on U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to stop subjecting children in its custody to physical, sexual, and verbal abuse, hold responsible agents accountable, and create safeguards against future abuses.

By: Michele Garnett McKenzie, deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights

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Morocco’s human rights record should threaten eligibility to host FIFA World Cup

fahrul-azmi-578025-unsplash.jpgPhoto by Fahrul Azmi at Unsplash

On April 16, 2018, five individuals landed unexpectedly at the airport in Casablanca, Morocco, looked around the terminal for an hour or so, and then left. The group was sent by FIFA to inspect Morocco’s airports, hotels, and soccer stadiums as part of the country’s bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup, the global soccer tournament held once every four years. Only Canada, Mexico, and USA had submitted a joint bid to rival Morocco’s, and initially the question was whether the small North African nation had the resources and basic infrastructure necessary to host such an enormous event. But, in the days since the task force’s arrival in Casablanca, FIFA’s attention has turned, appropriately, to Morocco’s record on human rights.

Today, The Advocates for Human Rights sent a letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino alerting FIFA that Moroccan criminal law discriminates against women and does not guarantee a safe environment for all World Cup attendees regardless of gender. The Advocates’ letter calls upon FIFA to uphold its commitment to international human rights – particularly women’s rights to freedom from discrimination and violence – by declaring that, until Morocco’s discriminatory criminal laws are repealed and measures are taken to respond adequately to sexual violence, the country’s eligibility to host the 2026 World Cup is called into question.

Moroccan criminal laws discriminate against women

Current Moroccan laws criminalize all sexual relations outside of marriage. Police are known to harass unmarried lovers, breaking into private homes in the middle of the night and arresting individuals on charges of adultery.

Further, Moroccan laws create significant barriers to justice for women who have been raped. For example, in cases of sexual assault and rape, Moroccan law continues to require that victims prove non-consent by showing actual physical injuries resulting from the act of violence, and ignores the act of violence itself. Moreover, rape victims are deterred from seeking help out of fear of prosecution for illicit sexual relations outside of marriage under articles 490 and 491 of the Moroccan Penal Code. And violence against women is a widespread problem in Morocco: 62.8 percent of women report some form of violence within a given one-year period; an estimated 23 percent of women experience sexual violence at some point in their lifetime.

The Advocates’ letter presses FIFA to further examine Morocco’s bid to host the 2026 FIFA World Cup and to engage in dialogue with national representatives toward solutions. Such discriminatory laws create disincentives to all fans – foreign and Moroccan – to attend World Cup matches and festivities. Moreover, the laws create disincentives to female fans in particular to attend because of the threat of gender-based violence. The resulting low attendance may have a direct, negative impact on the World Cup itself, both in ticket sales and in attendance at games and related World Cup events.

Other advocacy groups have noted that Moroccan criminal laws also discriminate on basis of sexual orientation. Morocco failed to disclose its anti-LGBT laws in its bidding materials, in violation of FIFA rules. In response, this week FIFA sent a second technical committee to Morocco to look into human rights concerns, in addition to infrastructure issues.

FIFA’s own human rights record

Stated simply, Morocco’s criminal laws are incompatible with international human rights standards and with FIFA’s Human Rights Policy. That a second, unplanned FIFA technical committee returned to Morocco this week, specifically to look into human rights concerns, suggests that FIFA is taking seriously its commitment to international human rights.

In 2017, FIFA adopted a new, landmark Human Rights Policy, while also creating a Human Rights Advisory Board to guide its implementation. Among other things, FIFA’s Human Rights Policy effectuates article 4 of FIFA Statutes, which prohibits discrimination of any kind, by requiring that future bids to host the FIFA World Cup are vetted against international human rights standards.

FIFA’s return to Morocco also suggests a sea change in FIFA policy and practice. In June, the 2018 FIFA World Cup will be held in Russia, a country known for anti-LGBT laws of its own, among other human rights concerns. Similarly, the 2022 FIFA World Cup will be held in Qatar, where there are serious concerns about labor trafficking in the country’s efforts to build the stadiums and other infrastructure necessary to host the event. Because of the overwhelming criticism from international human rights groups and others for its overt disregard for human rights abuses in connection to FIFA-sanctioned events, in 2015, FIFA engaged in a process to review and possibly overhaul its policies and business practices.

Whether that review has transformed the organization remains to be seen. But FIFA’s Human Rights Policy was adopted in the wake of that review, and such policy forms the basis for the added scrutiny over Morocco’s 2026 World Cup bid – clear evidence that the advocacy efforts of international human rights groups, like The Advocates for Human Rights, can leverage the private sector to shift national laws and public policy.

Conclusion

FIFA, like many private industries, believes that its product – soccer – has the power to change the world. At a March conference, FIFA President Infantino stated that the global sport has immense “strength” that can be used as “a force for good.” As The Advocates noted in today’s letter to President Infantino, although such statements carry great promise, to have meaning FIFA must act on them. The question is whether FIFA holds firm to its commitment to international human rights – particularly women’s rights to freedom from discrimination and violence – by engaging with Morocco’s national representatives to improve its World Cup bid. In turn, Morocco will have ample incentive to repeal its discriminatory laws and enact new protections for women.

Whether Morocco is awarded the 2026 FIFA World Cup will be decided by the FIFA Council on June 13, 2018.

By Jon Mosher, Spring 2018 PHRGE Fellow, Northeastern University School of Law 2018. Jon is currently a fellow with The Advocates’ International Justice Program. 

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“I think I will go mad here”: Putting a Face on Immigration Detention

The first week of March was eerily calm for me.  

As the person at The Advocates for Human Rights in charge of our client intake, one of my primary responsibilities is monitoring our client line, a phone line open from 9AM – 5PM Monday through Friday where we get calls from people seeking help.  

Normally we get somewhere between 20 and 30 calls on a given work day, which might be a 5-minute referral or a 40+ minute intake interview – certainly enough to keep me and our crew of undergraduate interns busy. And yet, the first week of March, the calls seemed inexplicably less frequent and less pressing. 

The twist? We received a letter from an inmate informing us that the phone system at Sherburne County Jail had not been working properly for several days, and dozens of people detained by immigration had been unable to reach us. Once we contacted the jail and got the problem resolved, our call volume immediately jumped back up again – and kept rising. 

You see, over the past year, The Advocates’ client line has been getting an increasing number of calls of all types, but especially from detainees. In July 2017, we received 41 calls from detainees. In March 2018, received 274. The months in between show a near-linear upward progression. 

 client line graph

 Our increase in calls is really no surprise when you look at current trends in ICE detention. The Trump administration has made concerted efforts to expand its arrest and detention capacity. The bottom line? More people are getting detained, and those who are detained are staying in detention longer. It’s to the point where facilities are rapidly running out of beds. As NPR reported last fall, “ICE reports the average daily population in its detention facilities was a little more than 38,000 for the 2017 fiscal year. The president’s 2018 budget plan requests an increase of $1.2 billion in funding for detention beds, to support an average population of over 48,000 adults.”  

The demographic of detainees is also changing. According to ICE data recently obtained by the National Immigrant Justice Center, more than half of the daily population in the first month of FY 2018 were marked as “non-criminal,” seen as posing “no threat,” while a mere 15% were classified as high threats, with violent criminal histories. Further, a recent report from the American Immigration Lawyers Association finds that from FY 2016 to 2017, arrests of immigrants with criminal convictions has increased a notable 12%, while arrests of people with no criminal convictions has increased a whopping 146% 

At The Advocates for Human Rights, these statistical trends are translated into conversations with individuals. People in ICE detention call for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they will ask for country conditions research needed to apply for asylum, or pro se (legalese for “DIY”) information for a particular application. Still others need contact information for miscellaneous institutions as they try to collect documentation from detention to support their case.  

Sometimes you can tell they just want to talk to someone about what they’re going through. One inmate asked for help to request a new copy of his documents: he’d lent a copy of a motion he filed to a fellow inmate to use as a model – then that friend was woken and deported at 3AM, taking the man’s papers with him. Some report medical issues, threats from fellow inmates, or being sent to solitary after raising a complaint.  

There’s a feeling of desolation such that even people with viable claims for legal relief consider giving up. One detainee, who had been denied ibuprofen for recurring headaches, commented, “I won’t even resist deportation if I’m ordered – I just want to be able to live a decent life, you know?”  

In another conversation, a man commented, “I feel like I’m losing my mind […] I think I will go mad here.”  

Of course, the most frequent request from detainees on the client line is legal representation. Detention’s most devastating consequence is that it limits vulnerable immigrants’ already limited access to legal counsel. This makes the work of The Advocates, especially through The Minnesota Detention Project, more valuable day by day.  

Not an attorney? Not a problem. Here are three concrete ways you too can make an impact: 

1) Help us monitor Immigration Proceedings through The Court Observer Project. 

2) Sign up as an interpreter to facilitate attorney meetings with detained immigrants.

3) Donate to The Advocates for Human Rights, so that when calls pour in on Client Line, we cannot not only answer, but respond.  
 

For my fellow research enthusiasts, here are links to more numbers and analysis of trends in immigration detention: 

 By: Rosie La Puma, Program Assistant in the Refugee & Immigrant program at The Advocates for Human Rights

 

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Jenna goes to the United Nations

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Thanks to The Advocates for Human Rights, I just had the opportunity to take my interest in human rights work— and particularly my longstanding advocacy work on gender violence issues— to the United Nations in Geneva. Along with 11 others, including representatives from NGOs in Cameroon and Azerbaijan, I participated in The Advocates’ annual UN Study Advocacy trip, where we spent five days in Geneva at the 37th Session of the Human Rights Council lobbying Human Rights Council members on gender violence, LGBTQ and death penalty issues. Even though I am just 17, during the week The Advocates ensured that I was not just a passive observer to their work – rather, they allowed me the opportunity to play an active role providing me with an opportunity to be an advocate at the international level.

On my first full day in Geneva, I got the opportunity to participate in a side event panel on Violence Against Women. I was honored to speak alongside experts in the field in women’s rights and gender violence, who addressed the issue of gender violence in Azerbaijan, Columbia and Russia. My presentation focused on gender violence at the high school level, an often overlooked issue. I spoke about, among other things, the need to change the dynamic and educate children at a young age about the meaning of consent. My hope is that by early education we might be able to dissipate the prevalence of gender violence in the community at large.

As if that wasn’t enough excitement, the next day I actually got to make an oral statement to the Human Rights Council — on the floor of the United Nations — on the implementation of the Vienna Declaration. The Vienna Declaration emphasizes the importance of eliminating “gender bias in the administration of justice.” In my statement, I spoke about the importance of criminal laws in combating violence against women and the need for UN member states to adopt laws in line with international standards to protect victim safety and promote offender accountability. I am glad I can speak quickly – as, during this particular session, each NGO had 90 seconds to speak. They actually cut you off if you go over your time. I think the man sitting next to me was a bit surprised to see someone so young sitting in the NGO speaker seat.

On days following, I got the opportunity to participate in small meetings with staff members of the Special Rapporteur on human trafficking in persons, especially in women and children and the Special Rapporteur on violence against women. We got to learn about their priorities for the coming year and some of the amazing work they have been doing. The representatives of the Special Rapporteurs truly seemed interested in the work of The Advocates and solicited examples of best practices as well as assistance in their ongoing work.

I also got to lobby. One of the primary reasons The Advocates attends the Human Rights Council sessions is to encourage delegates to comment during the Universal Periodic Review process – which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. It is done in cycles so every country is not up for review at once. During the UPR process there is an opportunity for any government to raise questions and make recommendations about any other government’s human rights compliance. Before the trip, The Advocates did extensive research regarding the human rights record of several countries up for their UPR — Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Colombia, Cuba, and Russia – and prepared recommendations on ways those countries could make improvement on issues including women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and the death penalty. With those recommendations in hand, along with other members of our team, I got to approach delegates encouraging them to meet with us to discuss The Advocates’ recommendations – and, if they didn’t want to meet, giving them prepared fact sheets on the various issues. While at first I was afraid to approach some of the delegates (you literally go into the Human Rights Council chamber and tap people on the shoulder and ask them to speak with you), I was excited to see how receptive people were to speak with us. I understand that in the past, many delegates have not only adopted The Advocates suggested recommendations but also that the recommendations were ultimately accepted by the countries under review.

I also had the opportunity to watch the Human Rights Council debates. I got to hear a representative from Hungary declare that migration was not a fundamental human right and hear a delegate from Cuba call out US hypocrisy on issues of civil and human rights. More importantly, I got to watch in action a body of international players trying to hold countries accountable for human rights violations – asking questions and making proposals. It was amazing to see individual countries human rights records being held up to public scrutiny. I loved the fact that UNTV televises the debates, so that the discussions are readily accessible throughout the world.

Finally, I got to watch The Advocates staff in action – creating a team out of a group with disparate skill sets and expertise. Robin, Jennifer, Rose and Amy willingly shared their expertise, helping us all to become better advocates. I have a new found understanding of the importance of their work – and the influence they have at the international level. I will be forever grateful for this experience from which I learned so much not only from watching the UN in action but also from the members of the team who were incredibly kind and supportive. And, in case any of the team members are interested, I did get my AP American History paper on the Chinese Exclusion Act done in time (although the last night of our trip was a very long night).

By The Advocates for Human Rights’ youth blogger Jenna Schulman.  Jenna is a high school  student in Washington, D.C. 

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2017: A Year of Strength for Women

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As we look back on The Advocates’ women’s human rights work in 2017 and the movement to hold accountable perpetrators of sexual harassment and assault, the word that comes to mind is strength In the last year, we strengthened the capacity of women’s rights defenders, made life-saving recommendations for reforms, and strategized how the UN can become even better in achieving gender equality.

We continued to identify gaps in governments’ responses to violence against women so we can tell them how to make women’s lives safer. Last year, we released reports on domestic violence in Montenegro and Serbia, where they become tools to bring sweeping changes.

Because of our reports, laws become better: domestic violence is criminalized, victims’ protections strengthened, and shelters funded.

 

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We also began building a multi-country cadre of women’s human rights defenders to use international mechanisms. By teaching 16 Russian-speaking lawyers how to leverage these remedies, we build their capacity to safeguard women’s rights against sexual harassment, trafficking, domestic violence, and sexual assault. This work is powerful and life-saving for the women in many countries with few realistic options for safety.  One lawyer told us,

With your help, I have started to believe that we can change our situation to the best.”

 

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And, of course, we have continued our advocacy before the UN, holding countries to the highest standards of women’s rights, while expanding our lens to focus on the UN itself. After all, if the UN is going to lead on women’s human rights, it must lead by example. In the face of ongoing investigations of sexual harassment by senior UN figures, such scrutiny is long overdue.

As a core member of the UN Gender Network, we are reviewing the UN’s gender equality policies and will make recommendations for reform at a UN roundtable next month.

We will continue to build on our momentum through 2018. I hope you will join us at three exciting events:

Please join us in 2018 as we celebrate women’s human rights, and thank you for your support to make the world a better, safer place for women.

By: Rosalyn Park, director of the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights.

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Ukraine delays decision on Universal Periodic Review recommendations on domestic violence

 

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The delegation from Ukraine, led by H.E. Mr. Sergiy Petukhov, Deputy Minister of Justice of Ukraine for the European Integration, speaks during Ukraine’s Universal Periodic Review on November 15, 2017. Source: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/human-rights-council/universal-periodic-review/28th-upr/watch/ukraine-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5647215634001#

For the 3rd cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Ukraine, The Advocates for Human Rights submitted a stakeholder report in collaboration with Center “Women’s Perspectives,” a non-governmental agency based in Lviv, Ukraine. The report focused on the prevalence of domestic violence in Ukraine.

Domestic violence is a pervasive problem in Ukraine. In 2016, the Ministry of Social Policy recorded 96,143 complaints of domestic violence, and data indicate that the number of complaints has been on the rise by 10% per year. The legal system fails to adequately protect women, a problem exacerbated by ongoing political conflict.  Ukraine has not yet created a specific crime of domestic violence, nor has it specifically defined gender-based violence in its laws. A package of laws to address violence against women passed a first hearing in Parliament in 2016, but was sent back to a working group over concerns the draft laws were harmful to traditional family values. Members of Parliament have asked the working group to remove references to “gender” and “sexual orientation” and to allow religious groups to sit on the Working Group. Ukraine has yet to ratify the Istanbul Convention on violence against women. Victim services remain insufficient and underfunded.

During the UPR in early November 2017, 70 countries made 190 recommendations to Ukraine, 29 of which were related to domestic violence or violence against women. This marks a significant increase from the four domestic violence-related recommendations made in 2012, a sign that more countries are taking note of conditions in Ukraine.

After the review, the country can either accept or reject the recommendations, and can choose to provide an additional response if it wishes to explain its decision. The UPR process also gives the state under review the option to delay its response to some or all of the recommendations. Ukraine has decided to defer decision on all of its recommendations and will have until March 2018 (the 37th session of the Human Rights Council) to submit an addendum with its responses to the recommendations.

By Laura Dahl, a 2017 graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in Global Studies and Neuroscience. She is a Fall 2017 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

This post is the fourth in a series on The Advocates’ international advocacy.  The series highlights The Advocates’ work with partners to bring human rights issues in multiple countries to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Additional post in the series include:

The Advocates’ lobbying against the death penalty packs a big punch at the Universal Periodic Review of Japan

How The Advocates brings the stories of women and children fleeing violence to the international stage

Sri Lanka’s Evolving Stance on the Death Penalty

 

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What’s it like to be an Advocate for Human Rights? An interview with Amy Bergquist

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Amy Bergquist is the International Justice Program Staff Attorney at The Advocates for Human Rights. Her job responsibilities include coordinating The Advocates’ advocacy at the United Nations and working with diaspora communities to improve human rights situations in their home countries.  Amy also represents The Advocates on the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty  and was recently elected as the World Coalition’s Vice President.

Describe your typical day or week at work.

There’s nothing typical, so it’s not boring. There’s always something new. I keep up with correspondence with international partners and pro bono volunteers. I do a lot of writing, editing, and researching. Then there’s prepping and facilitating presentations, workshops, and trainings. I also respond to requests and questions on a variety of topics from a variety of people, many of whom have never before interacted with The Advocates.

What kinds of problems do you face on a day-to-day basis?

Finding on-the-ground facts and information and determining which facts are reliable. Also, people see our name and think we can do everything related to human rights, so if they have a request that isn’t something we do, finding referrals for them can be a challenge. It’s also a challenge to get the word out about our organization to potential partner organizations.

What do you most like about working in this field?

I like that the organization is small enough that there is not a lot of hierarchy and appreciate the autonomy I’m given. I have the ability to collaborate with partners, to help them do their work more effectively and make a tangible difference with them.

What do you like the least about it?

Human rights advocacy is frustrating. Accomplishing goals is slow, and sometimes it feels like we’re not getting anywhere. You have to celebrate the victories you get, but sometimes those victories aren’t there or are small. But this just shows that our work is needed.

What is it like to work for this particular organization? How would you describe the culture at The Advocates?

Our work is volunteer-based, which means that we’re not guardians of a castle that no one else can enter. We’re inclusive in our collaboration with others. You don’t have to be an expert in human rights to make a difference.

Tell us about your career path that led you to this job.

In college, I was interested in human rights issues, especially refugee issues. I tutored refugees and did my honors thesis on refugee issues. I also had an interest in law. Then I lived in Moscow for a couple of years, where I taught and developed my Russian skills. After that, I came home, got my teaching degree, and taught for 11 years. While I was teaching, I coached debate and found myself living vicariously through the students I was coaching. I was teaching social studies to recently arrived refugees and got to hear a lot of their stories. These factors were what drove me to giving law school a try so I could pursue law and human rights. During law school, I volunteered with The Advocates, where I did fact finding with Minnesota’s Oromo community. I participated in an immigration clinic representing asylum seekers. I was also a research assistant for a professor who was an expert in the field of human rights. After law school, I did some judicial clerkships and then spent a year in private practice. Then The Advocates had a position open up, and they hired me. I’ve been here for about six years now.

What experiences best prepared you for this job? How did you learn to do your work?

There’s a lot of learning on the job, which is a good skill, especially at the UN where things are always changing. Being a research assistant gave me the skill of figuring out how to do things I’ve never done before. It’s also important to know how and when to ask for help.

What is a typical career path in this field? Are there opportunities for advancement?

My career path is not typical. There are a lot of ways to do what I do without a law degree. On the law side, it’s good to go to a law school that has some human rights programming, particularly clinics. Take advantage of being a research assistant for someone who is involved in human rights. I did judicial clerkships after law school, but they don’t necessarily have ties to human rights. There are clerkships at the Hague, which may be beneficial. Go into private practice and do pro bono for for a human rights organization. Get support in a private firm and develop skills that will benefit human rights organizations. It’s unusual to go straight from law school to a human rights organization.

What does the future look like in this field? Is anything in the field changing?

There’s more of an emphasis on letting organizations in the global south take on leadership roles. We’re a great potential partner to organizations in the global south, and we’re building a reputation so organizations know that we are available for collaboration. We’re not trying to impose a particular model or dictate to our partners.

How could a student best prepare themselves for a track in human rights?

Get involved with human rights-oriented student organizations. Attend lunchtime talks and, if you attend the University of Minnesota Law School, participate in the asylum law project. Attend CLEs and try to meet people – it’s a way of networking without being “network-y,” and people are pleasantly surprised when law students show up. Get involved with committees of state bar associations or the ABA. Organizations that have law student components may not be human rights specific, but you can offer to set up presentations and CLEs for them on human rights topics, and then you’ll be the one calling potential presenters, and it’s a good way to get yourself out there. Judicial clerkships in U.S. courts aren’t super relevant, but they’re a good way to develop your legal research and writing skills.

Read more about Amy Bergquist’s work in the areas of the death penalty, as well as  LGBTI rights and discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity.

Young artists share their vision for a world without the death penalty

Abolishing the Death Penalty: in Memory of John Thompson 

The Death Penalty Doesn’t Stop Drug Crimes

African Commission Urges Cameroon to End LGBTI Discrimination

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back for LGBTI Rights in Africa

Out in the Cold: LGBT Visibility at Olympics Key to Ending Homophobia

Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” Law: How U.S. Extremists are Fueling the Fight Against LGBTI Rights

Locking the Iron Closet: Russia’s Propaganda Law Isolates Vulnerable LGBTI Youth

The Wild East: Vigilante Violence against LGBTI Russians

Moving Forward: Four Steps and Six Strategies for Promoting LGBTI Rights Around the World

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Building the Capacity of Russian-Speaking Lawyers to Protect Women’s Human Rights 

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Our Legal Training Academy fellows from Georgia, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan working together on a UN treaty body exercise.

Members of The Advocates’ staff recently returned from Bulgaria, where we finished training 16 lawyers at the first session of our Legal Training Academy on Women’s Human Rights (LTA). Through this two-year project, we are building the capacity of lawyers to use international and regional human rights mechanisms to defend women’s human rights after all domestic remedies have failed. Being able to effectively access these options is crucial. For lawyers in some countries, which may not have adequate public prosecution laws concerning domestic violence or even basic protections for victims, the option of being able to leverage another remedy is powerful. Once a lawyer has exhausted the options available to them in their country, it is not the end of the road for the victim/survivor. Instead, they can still pursue effective, top-down recourse through the UN, European Court of Human Rights, and the Council of Europe. This two-year training academy teaches these lawyers how to most effectively bring these cases.  

 

The lawyers hail from nine countries in the Former Soviet Union—Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan, to name a few. Often, these human rights defenders are operating under laws that oppress or hinder civil society. For example, some of these countries impose onerous NGO registration requirements, while others use “foreign agent” laws to brand NGOs as spies and subject to heavy surveillance and conditions. Yet, each of these lawyers brought energy, commitment, enthusiasm, as well as drive to learn and connect with each other.  

 

In this first of three training sessions, we spent the first day hearing from the participants about the issues they face in their country. They described issues such as the severe lack of shelters, legal aid, and resources for women victims and survivors, the abuse of women in prison, and the use of village elders to decide cases of violence against women rather than formal court systems.

For example, one participant described the harmful practice and effects of polygamy in her country: “How do you register second and third wives? As a second or third wife, if my husband comes and beats me, and I’m not married, I cannot get a restraining order.”  

 Throughout the week, we discussed various forms of violence against women, including sexual violence, sexual harassment, domestic violence, and trafficking. We also addressed human rights for LGBTI and persons living with HIV.  

 

In the next two sessions, taking place in spring and fall of 2018, we will build the skills of these lawyers to leverage the UN and European mechanisms. Importantly, we are building not only a cadre of trained women’s human rights defenders, but a network of peers who will continue to share best practices and strategies, support each other’s efforts transnationally, and celebrate successes. Already, we have begun to see the impact after our first training. At the conclusion of the session, one participant said, 

“With your help, I have started to believe that we can change our situation to the best. Thank you all very much.”  

By: Rosalyn Park, director of the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights.

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Stand with The Advocates in 2018

2017 was a year that has been as challenging as any in my more than two decades working in the human rights movement.The Advocates was founded on the principle that we all play a part in making human rights real and this principle is more relevant today than ever. It is news to no one concerned about human rights that the systemic affronts to dignity, freedom, and justice for all have been deep and widespread. It would be difficult to overstate the impact of the 2016 election on our work and the dramatic increase in the demands that came in its wake.

But, for every assault on human rights that we witnessed in the past year, we redoubled our efforts to advocate, educate, and litigate in the service of justice and human dignity. 

For every attack on our values, hundreds of our volunteers came forward. We have developed new initiatives to respond to these challenges:

  • the new court observer and pro bono bond project created in response to the Administration’s travel ban and increased punitive immigration policies;
  • a collaboration with our partners to train more than 100 attorneys on the legal implications of sanctuary work so that they can assist faith communities considering that option;
  • contributions to the nationwide efforts to end human trafficking by lending a human rights perspective, and more.

The fact is, there is great opportunity in the midst of the many challenges that face the human rights community.Even as we have watched appalling attacks on human rights, we have also witnessed hundreds of thousands of people all over the world come off the sidelines, many for the first time, and say “Enough!”

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United Nations, Photo No. 1292 (Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States holding a Universal Declaration of Human Rights poster in English, November 1949.)

Our movement has the power to inspire, to galvanize people, because it is grounded in basic human rights principles. As stated in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights: the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world is the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family. Our job as advocates is to insist that public policy uphold human dignity and fundamental human rights principles. These rights include: the right to security, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from discrimination—rights that belong to each of us simply by virtue of being a member of the human family.

As we move into 2018, The Advocates will continue to build the human rights movement locally and globally with persistence and determination. Together we can make a difference. From saving the life of an individual asylum seeker who has come for protection from persecution to adopting new laws and policies to protect the rights of human trafficking victims to ensuring that legal systems in the United States and around the world work to eliminate violence against women.

We appreciate all the many ways you have helped us work toward our vision of a world where all people live with dignity, freedom, justice, equality and peace.We know what to do. Please work with us to have an even greater impact in 2018, by making a donation, volunteering your time, and every day, advocating for human rights for all.

By Robin Phillips, Executive Director of The Advocates for Human Rights. 

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Sri Lanka’s Evolving Stance on the Death Penalty

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The delegation from Sri Lanka, led by H.E. Mr. Harsha De Silva, Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs of Sri Lanka, at the November 15th, 2017 UPR of Sri Lanka. Source: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/human-rights-council/universal-periodic-review/watch/sri-lanka-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5648383899001#

The Advocates for Human Rights serves on the Steering Committee of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. In that capacity, The Advocates often collaborates with the World Coalition to engage in advocacy at the United Nations when a UN body reviews the human rights record of a country that retains the death penalty.

One recent example is Sri Lanka. The Advocates, in collaboration with The World Coalition, submitted a stakeholder report about the death penalty in Sri Lanka for consideration during the country’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council.

Sri Lanka acknowledges itself as a de facto abolitionist state and carried out its last execution in 1976. Yet Sri Lankan courts continue to sentence defendants to death and the country’s constitution still authorizes the use of the death penalty. According to Amnesty International, in 2016 Sri Lankan courts sentenced at least 79 people to death and an estimated 1,000 prisoners were under sentence of death.

During Sri Lanka’s second UPR in 2012, six countries made recommendations that called on Sri Lanka to abolish the death penalty or consider a formal moratorium. Sri Lanka rejected all six recommendations. Since then, President Sirisena and his government have made positive public statements suggesting they are working toward abolishing the death penalty. In a speech given at the 30th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in September 2015, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka reinforced that the Sri Lankan Government was committed to maintaining the moratorium on the death penalty, with a view to its ultimate abolition. In December 2016, Sri Lanka voted with 116 Member States of the United Nations to support a universal moratorium on the death penalty.

The public statements made by Sri Lanka were reinforced by the country’s increased openness to UPR recommendations. During its latest UPR on November 15th, 2017, Sri Lanka accepted three of thirteen recommendations made on the death penalty.

In 2012, Sri Lanka rejected three recommendations that urged considering abolition of the death penalty: “Consider the definite abolishment of the death penalty in its internal legislation” (Argentina and Ecuador) and “Seriously consider the possibility to abolish capital punishment” (Italy). In 2017, Sri Lanka accepted two remarkably similar recommendations: “Consider to abolish the death penalty” (Italy) and “Consider abolishing the death penalty” (Timor-Leste). Sri Lanka’s willingness to accept such recommendations may indicate changing government attitudes toward the practice.

Sri Lanka pays particular attention to the specific wording of recommendations. Sri Lanka’s new-found willingness to accept death penalty recommendations extends only to accepting recommendations that don’t bind them to any decision — all three accepted recommendations begin with some form of the word “consider.” For example:

  • Sri Lanka accepted, “Consider ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aimed at abolishing the death penalty” (Uruguay) but rejected “Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty” (Montenegro, Spain).
  • Similarly, Sri Lanka accepted “Consider abolishing the death penalty” (Timor-Leste) but rejected “Abolish the death penalty” (Australia). Sri Lanka rejected seven comparable recommendations, even those that recommended “taking steps” towards abolition.
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Mr. Aurélio Barros, representative from Timor-Leste, delivers his country’s recommendations to Sri Lanka during the November 15th UPR. Source: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/human-rights-council/universal-periodic-review/watch/sri-lanka-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5648383899001#

To be sure, a recommendation to “consider” abolition of the death penalty is not as strong as a recommendation to abolish the death penalty. The fact that some governments made weaker recommendations and some made stronger recommendations nevertheless gives us some insights into Sri Lanka’s evolving position on the death penalty. And we expect the Sri Lankan government to take concrete steps between now and its next UPR in 2022 to explore how abolition could be incorporated into the Penal Code and Constitution or to conduct public awareness surveys on the popularity of the practice. Perhaps by the time Sri Lanka is up for its fourth-cycle UPR, the country will have had enough opportunity for careful consideration to be able to definitely abolish the death penalty.

By Laura Dahl, a 2017 graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in Global Studies and Neuroscience. She is a Fall 2017 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

This post is the third in a series on The Advocates’ international advocacy.  The series highlights The Advocates work with partners to bring human rights issues in multiple countries to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Additional post in the series include:

How The Advocates brings the stories of women and children fleeing violence to the international stage

The Advocates’ lobbying against the death penalty packs a big punch at the Universal Periodic Review of Japan

Ukraine delays decision on Universal Periodic Review recommendations on domestic violence

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UN Gender Network: Understanding How Gender Impacts the UN’s Activities and Leadership

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 Members of the UN Gender Network include civil society, academics, UN former and current staff and government representatives.  Women’s Program Director Rosalyn Park (center row) represents The Advocates for Human Rights in the UN Gender Network.

For the past year, The Advocates for Human Rights has been a core member of the UN Gender Network. Convened by the University of Reading and Durham University, the UN Gender Network is a unique project to foster dialogue and an understanding of gender equality policies within the United Nations. We seek to investigate how it impacts UN leadership on the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5 on Gender Equality, and other policies. To do so, the UN Gender Network has brought together civil society, academics, UN former and current staff and government representatives over the course of three workshops to discuss these issues. A fourth workshop will take place in 2018 to launch the network’s policy recommendations to the United Nations.

When I talk about the UN Gender Network, people are often surprised to learn of the need to scrutinize the UN on its own gender equality policies. But after all, if the UN is going to lead on women’s human rights, it is important that it lead by example. The UN does not have one single gender equality policy applicable to each of its multiple bodies. Instead, the development and implementation of such policies are left to the discretion of individual bodies. The result: UN entities have very disparate policies or, in some cases, no policies at all. A 2016 UN Women report found that only 89% of UN bodies have a policy on sexual harassment, assault, and exploitation. Only 70% of UN bodies have a policy on discrimination, and just 67% have policies on anti-retaliation.

To examine this further, we engaged the pro bono services of DechertFredrikson & ByronFaegre Baker Daniels, and Stinson Leonard Street to map out the gender equality policies across all of the different UN bodies. Volunteers examined the spectrum of gender equality policies, including recruitment and appointment, facilitative policies, career advancement, harassment/discrimination, and separation policies. Initial findings reveal that while some UN bodies have strong, comprehensive gender equality policies, others are in many areas lacking or, where they do exist, tend to be more aspirational than effective. In other cases, good policies are in place but are not readily utilized by staff, indicating a need for ongoing monitoring. At its third workshop at Durham University this November, the UN Gender Network reviewed the draft recommendations it will make to the UN to advance gender equality priorities.

In September, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a system-wide strategy to address gender parity within the UN this fall, signaling a commitment to the issue and to achieve parity by 2028 across all levels at the UN. The strategy marks a first step toward addressing gender equality issues within the UN, but it will take ongoing commitment and multidisciplinary engagement to push through effective reforms. To join the UN Gender Network or learn more, please visit https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/united-nations-gender-network/.

 By: Rosalyn Park, director of the Women’s Human Rights Program at The Advocates for Human Rights.

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What’s it like to be an Advocate for Human Rights? An interview with Courtnie Gore

Courtnie Gore

Courtnie Gore is an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow with The Advocates’ Refugee and Immigrant Program. Equal Justice Works is an organization that funds internships and programs for lots of different causes. The focus of Courtnie’s fellowship is immigration.

What are some of the benefits of working as a legal fellow?

The guidance – The learning curve is heavy in any practice. One beautiful thing about a fellowship is that you’re still somewhat of a student while still being a legal professional. You get training and you get to work with others in the community. Not to say you can make careless mistakes, but you can make procedural hiccups, and you can have a coach to guide you through that process.

What are the requirements of your fellowship?

Within my fellowship I have to represent a minimum of 30 children. Right now I have 34, and I think I have one more coming in next week. I started in September 2016. My fellowship is for a year, and it was extended through March 2018. For the fellowship you need 1700 hours of work in the year. The hours aren’t hard to meet if you’re engaged.  The number of clients was at first intimidating.  20 percent of the fellowship can be dedicated to training; 80 percent has to be hands-on work. Within the fellowship, you are afforded the opportunity to attend numerous conferences and training sessions. Immigration is kind of an enigma because one day you walk into the office and federal procedures have completely changed. With the conferences, you get a firsthand playbook of what is soon to come.  Panel members and experts at conferences will say “Here’s what you should work on because I work on the Hill and this bill is in the works..”. I do have the opportunity to reach out to the other Equal Justice Works fellows for networking, but I have so much support here at The Advocates because I don’t really have to reach out much.

Tell us about your job. What are the core component and responsibilities?

I represent unaccompanied minors seeking asylum here in the United States. I represent children who have come here without their parents/guardians.   I represent these children because they have experienced such terrible persecution that they cannot return to their home countries. These children are forgoing the opportunity to see their families, friends, or their countries of origin in applying for asylum.  That is how grave their persecution is. I advocate for them in court and also help them with their asylum applications. I gather corroborating evidence – stories from other family members, country condition reports, documents of identification, to support their stories.  I also assist them with their asylum interview. I get to litigate, practice, and of course use my legal writing and research skills to draft legal briefs and other documentation. I get to be a resource for them outside of their legal needs. These children to the U.S. come without financial and emotional stability. Thank God for the resources of The Advocates. I’ve been able to make referrals for dentists, doctors, therapists, school, ESL classes, and so many other things. I also serve as a resource for pro bono attorneys who take on these cases because most of our pro bono attorneys are not immigration attorneys. They’re just wonderful people who want to do something more. So I’m always in touch with pro bono attorneys. I also help clients who have other claims. Sometimes clients will come in with an asylum claim, but we’ll discover that they also have a U-visa claim, or a T-visa claim.

So I keep my clients informed about their rights, I connect pro bono attorneys, and I also help to conduct trainings and outreach Throughout Minnesota and the Dakotas.

Describe your typical day/ week at work.

I don’t have an answer for that. I come in and fill up my water bottle – that is the most consistent thing about a day at The Advocates. I love not having the same thing to do every day. I will make a schedule for myself, and all of that will be tossed out of the window. There will be a walk-in person and they have a filing deadline next week, or a need that is urgent. I really have to flexible and detailed to make sure that these needs are met.  My typical day, depends on the need.

It’s all a matter of prioritizing. I do like to make sure that whatever a client needs – they have.  However, it’s important to assess your capabilities and your time.  Most of our clients’ needs are urgent and real, so it’s very important to prioritize. Checking in with my supervisor helps me to best allot my time and resources.

What kinds of problems do you face on a day-to-day basis?

There’s just not enough time in the day. I think this is true of any organization that serves a public interest need

What do you like least about working at The Advocates?

That there aren’t enough hours in a day.

What do you like most about working in this field?

The kids. Oh my gosh. I attribute this to my height, but every time I meet with a client, they’re taller than they were at the previous meeting. Just seeing their progression, and how happy they are gives me such joy. They’re great people. All children deserve health and happiness, and they deserve a chance at life.

How old are your clients?

My youngest client is 6. My oldest is 17.

What is it like to work for this particular organization? How would you describe the culture at The Advocates?

I appreciate how much autonomy I have to do my work. No one micromanages you. Supervisors will check in, but you’re given a lot of freedom and chances to mold what ever it is you need to do to provide the best representation to your client.

It’s a welcoming environment. I have never been afraid to ask a question – and that’s not common in the legal field.  Even though I’m a fellow, I feel like I am part of the team. We are all working together for the common good. There is no ego. Working with the Refugee & Immigrant Program has been amazing.

Why did you decide to work in this field and how did you get started? Tell us about your career path that led you to this job.

I always knew I wanted to do something in the legal field. When I was 14, I went with my church, Mt. Gilead Full Gospel International Ministries, to Uganda. At the time there was this huge civil war. I was charged with children’s’ ministry.  So many children had been orphaned because of the war. So I was teaching, providing them with resources, and food. This was my first international trip. And after left I knew I wanted to change the world for the better. I didn’t know in what capacity at that time.  Immigration is the current avenue I’m pursuing in order to change the world for the better.

What experience best prepared you for this job?

Missionary work, without a doubt best prepared me for this position. I will say that one of my mentors, Pastor Julian Dangerfield, took me aside one day when we were in Uganda. I was a teenager who had a bit of an attitude that day because things weren’t necessarily going the way I planned.  He gave me some of the most important advice I’ve ever received: “Go with the flow and take the low road.” That moment for me was vital in my growth, both as a person and as professional. It’s not about you – you are serving people that have a need that is greater than you’ll ever imagine. It is not about being seen as the hero. You have to let go of your ego.

What do you wish you had known starting out in this field? What would you do differently if you were to do it again?

I wish I would have known how new government changes were going to impact the field of immigration, and the impact has been fear. I’ve had clients not show up to court because they think it’s better to have a low profile. We have one client whose mother is eligible for three claims of relief, but she doesn’t feel as though she should pursue them. I wish I would have prepared myself to answer some of those questions and to address those fears. But it’s a good time to be in this position, if you are passionate about the law and serving others.

Tell us about your career path.

My first internship ever was with the Catholic Charities – it was a summer internship and I was helping refugees get bus passes and furniture for their new apartments. This was my first introduction to refugee and immigration work.

In law school I started with a clerkship for the Honorable Margaret M. Marrinan. This experience was incredible. I learned that I wanted to be a litigator and I that wanted to be in court. My second-year summer of law school, I wanted to try international corporate law, so I worked for a firm in Africa. I loved the international work and being in Africa, but I still felt guilty. I was serving a country, but I still didn’t feel like I was helping the most vulnerable populations.

So I ended up coming back and working as a legal consultant with Mano a Mano, a non-profit, non-governmental organization, and then interned for the NAACP.  There was, and still is, a huge issue with police brutality, so I collaborated with the President of the St. Paul chapter for students to know their rights. We created these programs to help them understand the constitution.

After law school I started working in business immigration I loved learning about business immigration, but still needed to do a little more to feel fulfilled.  In that role, I saw this opportunity with the Advocates, and I jumped on it.

Would you recommend a law and/or a graduate in specific areas?

I think a law degree is helpful, but if you don’t have one that doesn’t mean you can’t help.  There are people who assist and advocate for clients in many other ways.  If you have time, resources, or a skill, please get involved because the need is indeed great.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in getting involved?

Just do it.

If you feel like it, jump in and help. You are needed.

Read Courtnie Gore’s reflections and the tips she has learned in her first year of working with clients who are unaccompanied minors in Preparing a Minor for an Asylum Interview: Five Challenges.

 

 

 

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How The Advocates brings the stories of women and children fleeing violence to the international stage

UN HRC room
The Human Rights Council chambers in Geneva, Switzerland. UN Photo/Elma Okic. Source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=56915#.WjhEE7T83_Q

Since 2014, a growing number of women and children fleeing gender-based violence in Guatemala have requested legal assistance from The Advocates in applying for asylum in the United States. Using information from interviews with these clients, The Advocates documented violence against women in Guatemala and submitted a stakeholder report to the United Nations Human Rights Council for consideration during Guatemala’s third-cycle Universal Periodic Review, which took place on November 8, 2017.

Violence against women remains a serious problem in Guatemala, especially as the country continues to struggle to implement protective measures and programs. In the first ten months of 2015, the public ministry reported receiving 11,449 reports of sexual or physical aggression against women. In the first seven months of 2015, there were 29,128 complaints of domestic violence against women and 501 violent deaths of women.

Due to lack of protection and high rates of impunity, many women choose to leave the country rather than face potential reprisals and stigma. Domestic violence is also a significant push factor for unaccompanied child migrants.

The Advocates is able to help these women and children in two important ways: providing legal assistance in their asylum cases and using their experiences to advocate at the United Nations for law and policy changes in their home country of Guatemala.

There are several steps involved in bringing these individual stories to an international stage.

First, The Advocates drafted a report documenting violence against women in Guatemala, based on research on country conditions and client interviews. The Advocates submitted this stakeholder report to the Human Rights Council for consideration during Guatemala’s Universal Periodic Review. After the report was complete, I drafted a two-page summary that outlined the key information and suggested recommendations. I then reviewed countries that made recommendations to Guatemala during its second UPR in 2012, and selected 27 countries to lobby based on their past support for eliminating gender-based violence. I emailed these countries, thanking them for their interest in women’s issues and updating them on the status of past recommendations they made to Guatemala. I sent them the full report on Guatemala as well as the summary document.

The purpose of lobbying other countries is twofold— to alert the country to the dire situation in Guatemala and to provide suggested recommendations based on our report. The country under review must acknowledge the recommendations, which can serve as a rebuke for missteps as well as a blueprint for areas to improve.

For example, Guatemala received and accepted recommendations during its second-cycle UPR in 2012 to strengthen the 2008 Law Against Femicide. In order to implement these recommendations, the government established several agencies and institutions to give effect to the law, and created lower level courts. Yet weak implementation of these tools meant there was little reduction in levels of violence against women. In addition, there is no law against sexual harassment, despite its ubiquity. The partial implementation of these 2012 recommendations speaks to the importance of creating targeted recommendations, the success of which can be measured on a defined timeline.

Guatemala photo 2 Guatemala delegation
The delegation from Guatemala, led by H.E. Mr Jorge Luis Borrayo Reyes, President of the Presidential Coordinating Commission of Guatemala, delivers an introductory statement during the November 8th, 2017 UPR of Guatemala. Source: http://webtv.un.org/search/guatemala-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5639386301001/?term=&lan=english&cat=UPR%2028th&sort=date&page=3#

After the UN published the recommendations made during the November 8th UPR, I reviewed them to determine the success of our lobbying efforts. Of the 27 countries we contacted, seven of them made recommendations, five of which Guatemala accepted. Interestingly, the number of VAW-specific recommendations made to Guatemala remained fairly constant from 2012 (30 recommendations) to 2017 (31), but the makeup of the countries making the recommendations changed. In 2017, 77% of the VAW recommendations were made by countries that did not make a VAW recommendation in 2012. This shift suggests that a wider group of countries is taking note of the situation in Guatemala and willing to use their platform at the UN to advocate for women. It also suggests we should expand our lobbying efforts to target additional countries.

I was pleased to see the following recommendation from Spain, a country we targeted with our lobbying:

“Allocate sufficient resources to specialized courts and tribunals with jurisdiction over femicide and other forms of violence against women as well as move towards the full implementation of the Law against Femicide and Other Forms of Violence against Women.”

 

Guatemala photo 3 Spain gives rec
Mr. Emilio Pin, the representative to the UN Human Rights Council from Spain, delivers Spain’s recommendations to Guatemala during the November 8th UPR. Source: http://webtv.un.org/search/guatemala-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5639386301001/?term=&lan=english&cat=UPR%2028th&sort=date&page=3#

This recommendation indicates that Spain acknowledges steps Guatemala has taken (specialized tribunals, partial implementation of the Law against Femicide) and points out a key gap in the implementation of these efforts: lack of government resources.

It’s incredibly powerful to see this recommendation and other calls to action that grew out of The Advocates’ client testimonies.

Guatemala accepted 28 of the 31 VAW-specific recommendations and will have five years before its next review to work on implementing them. I hope, the country will continue to build on past work and use the recommendations made during this review to effect meaningful change.

By Laura Dahl, a 2017 graduate of the University of Minnesota with a degree in Global Studies and Neuroscience. She is a Fall 2017 intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

This post is the second in a series on The Advocates’ international advocacy.  The series highlights The Advocates work with partners to bring human rights issues in multiple countries to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Additional post in the series include:

The Advocates’ lobbying against the death penalty packs a big punch at the Universal Periodic Review of Japan

Sri Lanka’s Evolving Stance on the Death Penalty

Ukraine delays decision on Universal Periodic Review recommendations on domestic violence

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The Advocates’ lobbying against the death penalty packs a big punch at the Universal Periodic Review of Japan

death_penalty_countries_map
Map of the world based on countries’ death penalty status. Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/maps-and-graphics/countries-that-still-have-the-death-penalty/

Japan is one out of the fifty eight countries (including the United States) where the death penalty is still legal and actively carried out. In Japan, crimes punishable by execution include murder, terrorism, arson, and treason. Based on reports from the Japan Innocence & Death Penalty Information Center, 106 people have been executed since 1993, and as of November 2017, 126 people are currently on death row.

Hanging is the main method of execution in Japan, and is carried out in an isolated penal institution. The Japanese Government severely restricts people on death row from having contact with the outside world. Within the detention center, the communication of people on death row is strictly limited; only lawyers and close relatives are allowed to visit death row inmates. Furthermore, people sentenced to death are informed of their impending execution only on the morning of the execution. The Japanese government insists that such last-minute notification inflicts less psychological pain on people sentenced to death.

After learning of the death penalty policies and practices in Japan, we wanted to see how advocacy against the death penalty from various sources (civil society, states, stakeholders, etc.) could make a tangible impact. These issues regarding Japan’s death penalty and prison conditions have prompted criticism from domestic and international human rights organizations. A systematic mechanism for the organizations to raise these concerns is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

The Universal Periodic Review: What is it?

UPR_overview_sc
Japan’s Review during the 28th Session of the Universal Periodic Review, 14 November 2017 Source:http://webtv.un.org/search/japan-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5644308605001/?term=japan&lan=english&cat=Human%20Rights%20Council&sort=date

Every four and a half years, countries are required to undergo a Universal Periodic Review by the Human Rights Council. All UN member states – 193 countries in total – are required to participate in the UPR process, whereby they are subjected to review by the United Nations and are given the opportunity to report their progress on human rights issues and to receive and respond to recommendations from other countries.

The UPR process is structured in a way that allows for feedback from the state under review, as well as from on-the-ground non-governmental organizations (NGOs). NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) can submit stakeholder reports with firsthand accounts of the government’s failure to respect human rights. These stakeholder reports ensure that the Human Rights Council gets an accurate, well-rounded picture of the human rights situation in the state under review before the UPR’s “interactive dialogue.”

The Advocates’ UPR lobbying pays off

The Advocates for Human Rights works with other stakeholders to research and submit reports for consideration in the UPR process. Once the reports are submitted, The Advocates continues its efforts by contacting delegations of other UN member countries and lobbying them to make recommendations to the country under review. This lobbying can be done in person or via email. Oftentimes, these recommendations pertain to a single issue. The Advocates’ lobbying process for the November 2017 UPR of Japan provides a window into this type of UPR advocacy.

In preparation for the 28th Session of the Universal Periodic Review, The Advocates submitted a stakeholder report in conjunction with The Center for Prisoners’ Rights in Japan and The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty. (Readers can access the full report on The Advocates’ website.) After submitting the stakeholder report, The Advocates reached out to several country representatives to raise its concerns on the issue of the death penalty in Japan.

The Advocates sent emails lobbying against the death penalty in Japan to 26 countries. Of the 26 countries contacted, 21 countries made recommendations at Japan’s UPR dialogue (the other five were not present at Japan’s UPR). Twenty of these countries made recommendations in line with The Advocates’ lobbying. These recommendation included the following:

  • Immediately impose an official moratorium on the use of the death penalty (Australia, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland)
  • Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which aims at abolishing the death penalty (Argentina, Slovenia, Spain, Turkey, Uruguay)
  • Amend the Act on Penal Detention Facilities and Treatment of Inmates to ensure detention conditions meet international standards (Netherlands)
  • Open up a public debate and take concrete steps toward ending the death penalty (Belgium, France, Mexico, Norway, Rwanda, UK)

Beyond these twenty states, other representatives also made recommendations about the death penalty, echoing one or more of The Advocates’ recommendations. In total, 42 out of the 105 country representatives – a whopping 40% – participating in Japan’s UPR addressed the death penalty, demonstrating the strong international pressure for change in the country’s legal system. 

country_rep_sc
Country representatives of those who strongly recommended an end to the death penalty in Japan. Top row (from left to right): Mr. Suresh Adhikari, Nepal; Mr. Charles Kent, UK; and Ms. Laura Aubry, Switzerland. Middle row: Ms. Katarina Andric, Croatia; Mr. Curtis Peters, Canada; and Ms. Herborg F. Alvsaaker, Norway. Bottom row: Ms. Veronika Bard, Sweden; Ms. Lone Thorup, Denmark; and Ms. Monique T.G. Van Daalen, the Netherlands. Source:http://webtv.un.org/search/japan-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5644308605001/?term=japan&lan=english&cat=Human%20Rights%20Council&sort=date

Japan’s Response

In a closing statement at the UPR session, Mr. Yoshifumi Okamura and other representatives from the Japanese Government responded to the recommendations offered by other UN member countries. The Japanese delegates asserted the use of the death penalty in Japan is “unavoidable” and an immediate moratorium on the death penalty would be “inhumane” to the prisoners currently on death row, because such an act would arouse their hopes for abolition of the death penalty. The delegation rejected recommendations to convert death sentences to life imprisonment, asserting that a life sentence is a “very harsh punishment” and expressing great concern that the “character of the inmate will be destroyed due to prolonged confinement.”

Perhaps the most puzzling response from the Japanese Government was on the issue of notifying death row inmates of their execution on the morning on the execution. Government representatives asserted that an “inmate’s mental and psychological stability could be undermined and pain could be inflicted upon [them] if [they] were to inform about execution before the day of the execution.” As The Advocates’ noted in its report, the daily stress of not knowing the date of an impending execution certainly does even more to undermine the inmate’s mental and psychological stability.

After viewing the entire UPR session, we see that Japan is making strides in many areas of its human rights practices and policies. But progress in some areas does not erase the injustice of the continued practice of the death penalty and poor detention conditions. At the adoption of the Universal Periodic Review Working Group report, Mr. Yoshifumi Okamura stated: “There is no end to the promotion and protection of human rights.” The death penalty violates the most fundamental human right: the right to one’s own life. We hope Japan and the fifty seven other countries that actively the death penalty soon realize that this right is fundamental and act accordingly.

JAP_UPR_Yoshifumi_sc
Mr. Yoshifumi Okamura (front row, second from the left), the Representative of the Government of Japan and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Human Rights. Source: http://webtv.un.org/search/japan-review-28th-session-of-universal-periodic-review/5644308605001/?term=japan&lan=english&cat=Human%20Rights%20Council&sort=date

By Emma Lind and Xuemeng Yao.

Emma Lind is a 2017 graduate of St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota with degrees in International Human Rights and Psychology. She is a 2017 fall intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

Xuemeng Yao is a junior at Macalester College with a major in Sociology. She is a 2017 fall intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

This post is the first in a series on The Advocates’ international advocacy.  The series highlights The Advocates’ work with partners to bring human rights issues in multiple countries to the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council through the Universal Periodic Review mechanism. Additional post in the series include:

How The Advocates brings the stories of women and children fleeing violence to the international stage

Sri Lanka’s Evolving Stance on the Death Penalty

Ukraine delays decision on Universal Periodic Review recommendations on domestic violence

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Trafficking of Rohingya Refugees

Rohingya refugees
Photo credit: Getty Images

In July, the New York Times reported that a prominent, former Thai general had been  sentenced to nearly three decades in prison for conspiring in the trafficking of Bangladeshi and Burmese Rohingya, a minority, stateless ethnic group fleeing persecution in Myanmar. Dozens more, including police officers and smugglers, were also convicted of participating in the human trafficking ring after the discovery of several mass graves thought to contain the bodies of migrants were discovered in 2015 near the Thai-Malaysia border, along a route often used to smuggle Rohingya out of Myanmar. The crackdown on trafficking has increased since the mass graves were discovered; this is only one of many Thai authorities that has been caught or suspected of colluding in the trafficking of refugees.

The Rohingya are an Muslim, ethnic minority residing in the Rakhine state of Myanmar and Bangladesh. Increasing abuse, persecution, and displacement has forced the Rohingya to flee to neighboring countries; according to a recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 168,000 Rohingya are estimated to have fled the country in the last five years. Although the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, the 1982 Citizenship Law has consistently been used by the government to deny citizenship to hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, despite recent calls by human rights organizations and the UN General Assembly in 2014 to amend the legislation. The Citizenship Law effectively renders the Rohingya stateless, and it is this stateless status which makes it particularly difficult for the Rohingya to obtain legal status in any other country.

Thailand has consistently been a common destination and transit country for many refugees. However, the Thai government does not recognize the Rohingya as refugees, and therefore does not offer them protection. In fact, Thailand has not yet ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, is not a signatory to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, and has no formal national refugee legislation, so all migrants, whether refugee or non-refugee, are processed under the Immigration Act of 1979.

Thus, the Thai government treats asylum seekers as illegal migrants, and arrests and deports them as such. Thai law allows for police to arrest, detain, and fine people who have migrated illegally, even if they are children; because many refugees, particularly the stateless Rohingya, are not able to obtain legal status in Thailand under the Immigration Act of 1979, they are very likely to be subject to abuse by employers and human traffickers or to indefinite detention, abuse, and refoulement by Thai officials, even when the U.N. has recognized their refugee status. In fact, since 2004, the Thai government has not even allowed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to conduct screenings on Rohingya to determine refugee status.

This lack of protection, from either Thailand, other ASEAN countries, or the UNHCR within Thailand, puts the Rohingya at great risk of trafficking. The struggles of the Rohingya were put under the spotlight in May of 2015, when images emerged of overcrowded boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya from Bangladesh and Myanmar, adrift in the Andaman Sea between Thailand and Malaysia. The migrants had paid smugglers to take them out of Bangladesh and Myanmar, but due to Thailand’s recent crackdown on trafficking, these smugglers soon abandoned the migrants. When their boats neared the shores of Malaysia and Thailand, the refugees were turned away and pushed farther out to sea by authorities, where many perished due to exposure and lack of food and water. Survivors reported suffering horrific abuse at the hands of the traffickers, who beat, killed, and deprived migrants in order to force their families to pay a ransom.

Had they managed to arrive in Thailand, they likely wouldn’t have endured a fate much better. Once they reach the mainland, many migrants are sold by their smugglers to other traffickers, who then hold them in camps along the borders of Thailand. Here, they endure equally gruesome conditions and beatings; in May 2015, Rohingya in camps along the Thailand-Malaysia border were found being held in extremely overcrowded spaces, and even in pens and cages.

Even upon rescue from these camps, migrants are not safe. Because of Thailand’s treatment of refugees as illegal immigrants, refugees found in camps are generally arrested and placed in indefinite detention. Within immigration detention centers, migrants are subject to further abuse by Thai police and officials, who, like traffickers, often beat and harass detainees in order to obtain payment, and sometimes force them to return to Myanmar, an act which violates the international principle of non-refoulement. Further, detention officers sometimes even sell refugees back to the trafficking rings they were rescued from.

Thailand has taken steps in the last decade to combat human trafficking in the country, such as passing a law in 2008 which criminalizes trafficking and details punishments for perpetrators, including imprisonment and fines, and a more recent law in 2016 which expedites the judicial process for trafficking cases. Nonetheless, problems such as inadequate identification procedures for victims of trafficking, low rates of trafficking prosecutions and convictions, and most importantly, Thai official complicity in trafficking persist.

In its 2016 Universal Periodic Review, Thailand received eight recommendations from other state delegations relating to refugees and asylum seekers. It rejected almost all of these recommendations, including those which requested that Thailand offer legal status to refugees and asylum-seekers and that it put an end to arbitrary detention and refoulement of refugees, especially children. In its report, Thailand noted that despite not being party to the international treaties regarding refugees, the country has a “humanitarian tradition” of providing assistance to displaced people. Despite Thailand’s very recent push to prosecute traffickers, the state’s clear involvement in the trafficking and abuse of such displaced people and its refusal to conduct refugee screenings on them would suggest otherwise.

In order to truly demonstrate its commitment and “humanitarian tradition” of helping refugees, Thailand must immediately halt the return of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, ratify international treaties relating to refugees and proceed with the investigation and prosecution of those responsible for the egregious human rights violations of migrants.

By: Abby Walker, a junior at Carleton College (class of 2019) in Northfield, Minnesota studying sociology, anthropology, and education. She was a 2017 summer intern with The Advocates’ International Justice Program.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two photo options below:

 

Thailand Immigration Police bring Rohingya refugees to a port outside Ranong City (October 30, 2013)

 

Two Rohingya refugees in a Thai immigration detention center in Kanchanaburi province (July 10, 2013)

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Young artists share their vision for a world without the death penalty

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Masongezi, a student from the DRC, with his poster. It reads “No to the death penalty”.

Today, October 10, is the World Day Against the Death Penalty.   I am thinking back to a conference I attended in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, just a few weeks ago, on strategies for abolishing the death penalty. The conference, in partnership with Together Against the Death Penalty (ECPM), included two full days of presentations, discussions, and exhibitions. ECPM invited me to lead workshops on the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review and on conducting fact-finding to document conditions on death row in the DRC.

I found one part of the conference to be particularly powerful. As part of ECPM’s “Draw Me the Abolition” project, students around the world submitted illustrations of their conceptions of the death penalty. Four Congolese finalists were awarded diplomas at the conference and we were able to see all of the winning artwork on display. Their illustrations serve as a powerful testament to the harsh realities of the death penalty.

Below are some of the Congolese finalists and their extraordinary artwork, along with other winning posters. The illustrations, rife with pain, are indicative of the injustice of the death penalty.

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Mr. Nicolas Perron, Program Director of the ECPM, presents a diploma to one of the artists.

 

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Artwork on display by students from the DRC. “Non a la piene de mort” translates to “No to the death penalty”.

 

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A visual representation of the five countries with the largest number of executions in 2016. China, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States topped the list.
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“The death penalty- a suffering for the family of the condemned.” This image depicts the ripple effect the death penalty has upon the people close to those executed.
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Mbuyi, a student from the DRC, with his artwork.
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Monungu, from the DRC, displays his poster which translates to “Why kill? No! To the death penalty”.
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“Together to cut the ropes and the death penalty” drawn by a Tunisian student.
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Artwork on display by Pakistani students.
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Posters by German finalists.
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Artwork by Mexican and Taiwanese students. The red poster reads, “We are not the god of death, we should not deprive people’s lives.”
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French student artwork. The second poster from the left reads, “To execute is to break a family.” The second poster from the right reads, “In 12 countries of the world, people are executed for homosexuality.”

Take action

  • Which posters do you find most compelling? Share this blog post to spread the word
  • Attend the upcoming screening of The Penalty at the Twin Cities Film Fest (Wednesday, Oct. 25, 7:20 pm) and stay for the post-film discussion, including The Advocates’ Executive Director Robin Phillips
  • Follow The Advocates for Human Rights and The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty on social media
  • Share why you oppose the death penalty on social media, using the hashtag #NoDeathPenalty
  • Organize an event in your community
  • Write to a prisoner on death row
  • Call on the federal government to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty
  • If you live in a state that still has the death penalty, call on your elected officials to end the death penalty and call on prosecutors to stop seeking the death penalty

By Amy Bergquist, The Advocates’ International Justice Program staff attorney.

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Abolishing the Death Penalty: in Memory of John Thompson

By Amy Bergquist

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“Very sad news,” the subject line read. One week ago today, Elizabeth Zitrin, the former president of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, emailed me to let me know that John Thompson had died.

October 10 is the fifteenth World Day Against the Death Penalty, and it’s an appropriate occasion to reflect on John’s life and the “deadly mix” of poverty and justice.

Connick v. Thompson: John Thompson’s case goes to the Supreme Court

I first learned about John’s extraordinary life in 2010, when I was a law clerk for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Supreme Court clerks see a lot of death penalty cases, and usually they are gut wrenching last-minute appeals before a person is executed. But John’s was different. He was indisputably an exoneree—he spent 18 years in prison—14 of them on death row—before being released on account of what my local newspaper’s obituary quaintly refers to as “evidentiary problems.” Prosecutors, violating John’s constitutional right to a fair trial, had suppressed evidence proving his innocence.

John sued the district attorney’s office, then headed by Harry Connick, Sr., and the jury awarded him $14 million—one million dollars for every year he spent on death row. The conservative-leaning U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld the jury award, concluding that Thompson had proven that Connick was deliberately indifferent to the obvious need to train prosecutors on their duties to disclose evidence.

The Supreme Court, split 5-4, took away the jury’s verdict. The majority asserted that John’s case involved only a “single incident” of prosecutor misconduct, even though multiple attorneys had played a role in the suppression of multiple pieces of evidence. And because it was a “single incident,” Connick’s failure to train his prosecutors on evidence disclosure did not rise to the level of “deliberate indifference” to Thompson’s constitutional rights because those constitutional violations were not an obvious consequence of Connick’s failure to train.

Justice Ginsburg authored the dissent, joined by Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. As she does once or twice a term, when she feels particularly strongly about a case, she summarized her dissent from the bench. She wrote that the constitutional violations in John’s case “were not singular and they were not aberrational. They were just what one would expect given the attitude toward [evidentiary disclosure] pervasive in the District Attorney’s Office. Thompson demonstrated that no fewer than five prosecutors . . . disregarded his [constitutional] rights. He established that they kept from him, year upon year, evidence vital to his defense. Their conduct . . . was a foreseeable consequence of lax training in, and absence of monitoring of, a legal requirement fundamental to a fair trial.”

He needed no introduction

In June, I was in Washington DC for the biannual meeting of the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty, and the organizers had prepared an ice-breaker activity to encourage Coalition members to get to know each other. John Thompson was attending as a member of the Board of Directors of Witness to Innocence, another member of the Coalition. As part of the ice-breaker, as fate would have it, John’s task was to find me and introduce himself.

He needed no introduction. It’s a rare occasion for a former Supreme Court clerk to meet a litigant whose case had been before the Court during her clerkship, particularly a case so memorable that, on the day the majority handed down its opinion stripping John of his jury award, Justice Ginsburg had donned her “dissenting collar” and dissented from the bench.

I apologized to John that his case hadn’t come out in his favor. John just shook his head and shared my disappointment for a moment, but then he was ready to move on. We talked about Witness to Innocence and The Advocates, and out of our conversation bubbled up the idea of reaching out to jurors who had sentenced people to death who had later been exonerated. John wondered whether the jurors in his case even knew he had been exonerated, and how such information would make them feel, having found him guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Resurrection After Exoneration

What struck me most about John was his resilience. He was arrested in 1984 at the age of 22, and released only in 2003, at the age of 41. He had survived six execution dates, but during his time in prison he missed the opportunity to watch his two children grow up, was denied the chance to go to college or start a career, and even missed out on such mundane things as learning to use email.

Yet upon release, John hit the ground running. He founded an organization called Resurrection After Exoneration. As he explained:

Exonerated prisoners (exonerees) and returning long-term prisoners re-enter the free world with high hopes of a fresh start but are soon trapped in the cycle of poverty and disillusionment that led to their original imprisonment. To enable us to break this cycle, I will create for us a positive understanding of life’s potential and for society an understanding that recidivism (even by exonerees) is caused by lack of opportunity. If returning prisoners succeed, the whole community benefits.

Returning prisoners are people stripped of self-sufficiency, control and autonomy. In response, I came up with the idea of an exoneree-run re-entry program: Resurrection After Exoneration. The program has been designed to empower us to regain these attributes by creating an opportunity to rise up as individuals and say “I can do this”, rather than having someone else tell us “You must do this.”

John used his facebook page to share joy and love. In addition to proud photos of his grandchildren, he shared videos of “incredible stories” and affirmations to “stay strong!”

2017WorldDayPosterENPoverty and justice: A deadly mix

John’s observation that “poverty and disillusionment” had led to wrongful convictions, and were often waiting at the prison gate after exonerees’ release, highlights the saliency of the theme of this year’s World Day Against the Death Penalty, Poverty and Justice: A Deadly Mix. The Equal Justice Initiative estimates that 95% of all people on death row in the United States come from disadvantaged economic backgrounds.

How did John even become a suspect in the crimes he did not commit? As a 22-year-old self-described “small-time weed dealer” trying to support his two children, he bought a ring and a gun from the murderer, not knowing that the ring was the victim’s and the gun was the murder weapon. His public defender didn’t press prosecutors when the blood sample that would later prove John’s innocence was not in the evidence locker when he went to inspect the evidence before trial.

Proving John’s innocence wasn’t cheap. The pro bono team that had taken on John’s case had run out of options, and at the 11th hour they decided to hire a private investigator to dig through some microfiche. That private investigator uncovered the blood evidence that prosecutors had concealed.

It’s likely that a suspect with ample financial resources never would have been tried, much less convicted and held on death row for 14 years, with a similar set of facts and evidence.

A worldwide problem

People from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds around the world are more vulnerable to be sentenced to death than others. A recent study conducted by the National Law University of New Delhi found that 74% of people sentenced to death in India are from economically vulnerable backgrounds. A study in Nigeria found that the overwhelming majority of people on that country’s death row are economically disadvantaged.

The World Coalition has identified many factors that illustrate the injustices people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds face in death penalty cases around the world:

  1. Unequal access to education and information. People living in poverty often lack a formal educational background that would enable them to understand and participate fully in legal proceedings initiated against them, and that would empower them to assert their rights under the law.
  2. Bail and pretrial release. A person who obtains pretrial release is better able to prepare a defense, yet people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds often cannot afford bail to secure their release.
  3. Access to counsel. In India, for example, 89% of prisoners sentenced to death did not have legal representation before their first magistrate hearing, even though the law entitles them to such representation.
  4. Effectiveness of legal counsel. In many jurisdictions, the legal counsel the state provides to indigent defendants is less effective than the legal counsel that more affluent defendants can hire. These state-appointed attorneys may be less experienced, underpaid, and overworked. As Clive Stafford Smith, founder of the NGO Reprieve, put it, “The death penalty is not for the worst criminal, it’s for the person with the worst lawyer.”
  5. Cost of building a strong defense. In Nigeria, for example, if a suspect is not able to pay for gasoline, the police will not travel to see witnesses to assess the suspect’s alibis. Expert witnesses and witnesses to rebut the state’s evidence can also be costly.
  6. Bias and discrimination. Whether the sentence is pronounced by a judge or a jury, finders of fact often harbor explicit or implicit biases against people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds.
  7. Corruption. In many countries where corruption is prevalent, a defendant must pay bribes to have petitions heard or even to meet with counsel. In Nigeria, police often release a suspect in exchange for payment. Colleagues in Malaysia tell me that even though the law requires prosecutors to disclose evidence to the defense, they often fail to do so and face no legal consequences.
  8. Conditions on death row. The conditions of detention on death row often depend on the financial resources of the convicted person. In some countries, a prisoner without access to financial resources may have difficulty accessing health care or quality food.
  9. Family. Being charged with a death-eligible crime and sentenced to death can place a heavy financial toll on the person’s family. Family members often sacrifice every available resource to assist with the person’s defense, driving the family further into poverty.

In memory of John Thompson, I would add to this list that exonerees are often deprived of compensation that would help them rebuild their lives. In a 2013 I attended a powerful meeting of Journey of Hope . . . From Violence to Healing, where I learned that in many states, prisoners sentenced to death are not eligible to participate in prison education and vocational training, because such programs are “not consistent with their sentence.” And as John noted, in many states exonerees aren’t even eligible for the job training programs that parolees get, because exonerees aren’t on parole.

Take action

John Thompson was one of the lucky ones. The Supreme Court stripped him of the jury’s $14 million award, but he persisted, using his 14 years of freedom to make the world a better place by fighting for criminal justice reform, for accountability for prosecutorial misconduct, and for much-needed services to assist exonerees.

You can make a difference, too. The goal of World Day 2017 is to raise public awareness of the reasons people living in poverty are at greater risk of the death penalty. Here are some things you can do:

  • Share this post with your family and friends
  • Attend the upcoming screening of The Penalty at the Twin Cities Film Fest (Wednesday, Oct. 25, 7:20 pm) and stay for the post-film discussion, including The Advocates’ Executive Director Robin Phillips
  • Read John Thompson’s op-ed called “The Prosecution Rests, but I Can’t,” published soon after the Supreme Court’s decision in his case
  • Follow The Advocates for Human Rights and The World Coalition Against the Death Penalty on social media
  • Share why you oppose the death penalty on social media, using the hashtag #NoDeathPenalty
  • Organize an event in your community
  • Write to a prisoner on death row
  • Call on the federal government to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty
  • If you live in a state that still has the death penalty, call on your elected officials to end the death penalty and call on prosecutors to stop seeking the death penalty

Amy Bergquist is a staff attorney in The Advocates’ International Justice Program.Amy and John Thompson

 

Featured

Preparing a Minor for an Asylum Interview: Five Challenges

Editor’s Note: The Advocates for Human Rights works with hundreds of refugees seeking asylum. In this post, Courtnie Gore, the Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow in our Refugee and Immigrant Program, reflects on five challenges and tips she has learned in her first year of working with 34 clients who are unaccompanied minors.

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Drawings by children represented by legal fellow Courtnie Gore
  1. Establishing trust. In a first meeting with a child, I have to remember that this child has met a lot of “me’s.” That is to say, they have sat across a table from a stranger who asks very invasive questions. They are scared and don’t trust me. So, my initial approach is just to relate to them. I ask them to draw a picture of their home in the country they came from. This allows the child not to think about the painful circumstances that brought them into my office. I have them describe everything in the picture. They beam up with pride when they talk about the fruit  in front of their house, their neighbors, or pets they’ve left behind. From that point on, we can talk more about their time in their home country–the good,  the bad, and the persecution.
  2. Understanding their immediate situation. While the child needs to be able to share their story with us, we also have to realize there’s a lot they might lack in their day-to-day lives. It’s important to understand what is going on in their current home and whether their basic needs are being met. Unaccompanied minors often have a strong sense of loyalty to whomever takes them into their home here in the U.S. Thus, they may be hesitant to share details that would paint a relative or guardian in a bad light. Some undocumented guardians mCat drawingay have concerns about going to court or taking the minor to get his or her fingerprints taken. It’s important to address these concerns so you and the client can focus on the case.
  3. Listening deeply. A child doesn’t tell a linear story. That means we have to do a lot of piecing the puzzle together. A child may tell you their relative raped them. What they won’t tell you is that their grandmother often left them alone with the uncle, who is a known drunk and abuser. It’s important to confirm events and put the stories in chronological order. Putting all the pieces of the puzzle together is essential.
  4. Practicing for the asylum interview. This is one of the most challenging parts of the interview prep process. The asylum interview is a whole different ballgame–it’s like starting at square one. The child will be sitting across the desk from yet another stranger. At that point we have to make sure they are not vague, shy, or prone to retract back to how they were when they first came to our office. We have to prepare the child-client for the worst. Asylum officers have asked questions like, “Did your parents pay for you to come here?” to “Why didn’t you live with another relative?” in domestic abuse cases. You have to prepare the child for whatever might come.
  5. Coming to closure. The asylum interview could possibly be the last time you see a client. Some clients are okay with that. However, some are left feeling extremely vulnerable. It is important to follow up with them to see what additional referrals or needs they might have, such as medical attention, therapy, or other resources.

In September, I was thrilled to learn that my first client, an 11-year-old boy from Guatemala, was granted asylum. That day, I discovered that representing unaccompanied minors is as rewarding as it is challenging.

By Courtnie Gore, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow at The Advocates for Human Rights

House drawing

My Domestic Violence Monitoring Mission to Montenegro

FeaturedMy Domestic Violence Monitoring Mission to Montenegro

By Angela Liu, Dechert LLP

“Domestic violence is a “style of communication between the parties.”  It is the “victim’s choice . . . to be communicated to her with violence.”

My jaw dropped.

I then quickly pulled myself together from a momentary state of shock as I listened to a mediator in Montenegro matter-of-factly explain his thoughts on domestic violence. By this point in our mission, I kept thinking that I would get used to the way our interviewees spoke about domestic violence. After all, we had spent an intense week in six cities throughout the country — from the Albanian border to the Serbian border — interviewing members of Parliament, judges, prosecutors, police, social workers, doctors, and even the victims themselves. But in each interview, like in this one with the mediator, I always learned something new.

As a white collar and securities litigator at Dechert LLP, an international law firm, I joined the monitoring mission with The Advocates for Human Rights to Montenegro, having never done any domestic violence work, let alone traveled to the Balkans. But I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity when our firm committed its resources to pursue the monitoring mission in Montenegro in 2015, a country that was a part of the former Yugoslavia and gained its independence in 2006.

Having the honor of learning from Rosalyn Park and Amy Bergquist, two impressive Advocates attorneys at the forefront of the human rights movement, we paired up in teams and started each day early in the morning traveling to a new city so that we could begin interviewing around 9 a.m. Our days were packed with organized interviews that very rapidly revealed that domestic violence was not only a widespread problem in Montenegro – it was also a very private one. I was struck how I took for granted our comparably victim-centered laws, practices, and education, as I heard story after story about how keeping the family together – as opposed to keeping the victims safe – came first. I witnessed the defense and excusal of offenders as interviewees pushed back about depriving offenders their rights: “where will the offender go if evicted?” was a reoccurring theme. In interview after interview, I heard about the lack of coherent coordination and adequate resources. And for the first time, as an associate, I viscerally understood why the rule of law and even how our physical courtroom is set up is so important – something I take for granted every day here in the U.S.

What impressed me the most about Montenegro wasn’t just the rugged mountains that explained why the country is called “Black Mountain,” nor was it the coastline that looked like it was straight out of movie. What impressed me the most was undoubtedly the resiliency and strength of the victims of domestic violence. I had the opportunity to interview one such victim who showed me photographs of bruises all over her body that were submitted to the court. She so bravely explained how she came up against road block after road block with every institutional response and is currently mired in multiple court proceedings to tell her side of the story. I saw victims weaving beautiful rugs at a women’s shelter as they heroically learned a new skill to have some form of economic independence. And as we stayed in that same shelter one night, I was moved by the incredibly strong women that are fighting every day with limited resources to help these victims. Our partners Natasa Medjedovic at SOS Hotline for Women and Children Victims of Violence – Niksic and Maya Raicevic at Women’s Rights Center were examples of such strength, who challenged the seemingly accepted notion that “just being a patriarchal society” is an adequate response to the problems these victims face.

Liu Blog Post Photo

Pictured above: Angela Liu, Megan Walsh, Maja Raicevic, Rosalyn Park, Milica Milic, Natasha Medjedovic, Tamara Radusinovic, and Amy Bergquist.

This trip, however, could not have been made possible for me without the support from my firm to which I am very grateful, and I would encourage other firms to continue their support as well. What I took away from the pro bono experience was how just taking the time and honing your own fact finding and deposition skills can impact the laws and practices of an entire country in a tangible way. It’s hard not to fall in love with a profession when you get to practice and develop your skills, let alone in a context where you’re seeing prosecutors, police, and doctors begin to consider using particular laws or protocols while being interviewed; or members of Parliament, judges, and even the victims ask for advice or more training to make their country better.

After two years of work, the 200+ page report based on our mission is now finished. It shines a light on the laws and practices in Montenegro, which will be helpful in advocacy in the country and at the United Nations. I also hope that one day domestic violence will never be known as a chosen style of communication in Montenegro.

Featured

Nevertheless, She Persisted

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Photo credit: Kaia Kegley

In Homer’s epic poem  The Odyssey, Telemachus instructs his mother Penelope:

“Go back to your quarters… Speech will be the business of men, all men, and of me most of all, for mine is the power in the household.”  

The role of women in society has clearly progressed since the days of Homer.  Indeed, women now comprise 20% of the seats in the US Congress – holding 21 seats in the US Senate and 84 seats in the House of Representatives.    Given this progress, you would hope that the days of men trying to publicly silence would be over.  You would especially hope that the efforts to silence women wouldn’t happen in the US Senate to powerful and accomplished women like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.  You would hope that these women would be allowed to speak – and not be subjected to different standards than their male peers.  But, that is not what happened earlier this year.  It is bad enough when ordinary women are silenced – but, the efforts to silence these powerful women sends a troubling message to the girls of my generation.

In  February 2017, by a vote of 49 to 43, Senate Republicans voted to formally silence Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, during the debate over Jeff Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General.  Senator Warren had tried to read into the record a letter written by Coretta Scott King objecting to President Reagan’s nomination of Sessions to the federal courts back in 1986.  In her letter, King said that Sessions used “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”   Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell  said that Warren had “impugned the motives and conduct  of our colleague from Alabama.”

Senator McConnell then invoked Senate Rule 19 – a  Senate rule that allows the presiding officer to enforce standards of decorum on the Senate floor (“No Senator in debate shall, directly or indirectly, by any form of words  impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator”) – to stop Senator Warren from speaking.  He then famously said:

“She was warned.  She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”

What stands out about Senator McConnell’s  efforts is the rule used to silence Senator Warren has rarely been invoked since its creation was prompted in 1902 after a fistfight erupted on the Senate floor.  It is hard to imagine that Senator Warren’s comments were more egregious than words spoken by men on the Senate floor over the years.  Was it worse than when in 2015 Senator Ted Cruz accused Senator McConnell of lying?  In fact, Bernie Sanders, only a few hours later, read the same letter and was able to finish without interruption.

In early June, two senators interrupted Senator Kamala Harris while she was in the midst of questioning Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein with respect to the independence that would be given to Special Counsel Mueller.  She had limited time – and was seeking a yes or no answer to what she thought was a straightforward question.   She was interrupted for not providing the witness with the “courtesy” for all questions to be answered.  As the former Attorney General of California, Senator Harris is an experienced litigator.  Some observers have argued that she was held to a different standard then many using the same questioning techniques.

This kind of silencing has not just happened to American politicians.  Back in 2011 in the UK, Prime Minister David Cameron, told Angela Eagle, a Member of Parliament to “calm down dear”  as she was trying to make a point during a debate in the House of Commons.   Attacking Mr. Cameron’s “patronizing and outdated attitude to women,”  MP Harriet Harman noted:  “Women in Britain in the 21st century do not expect to be told to ‘calm down dear’ by their prime minister.”

The good news  is that, unlike in the times of Homer, the silencing of these women politicians has not gone unnoticed.  Even girls my age are taken aback at what we see as men applying different standards to women.   However, we are even more heartened by the reaction as people across the country spoke up noting the inequality.  Plus, we are heartened by the fact that neither Senator Warren nor Senator Harris wilted at their silencing.  They just continued to speak up using other channels.

The other day I saw a baby onesie with the phrase “Nevertheless,  She Persisted” emblazoned on the front.  Senator McConnell’s words have become a rallying cry for women and even baby girls.  I wonder if Senator McConnell wishes he had just let Senator Warren speak.

By The Advocates for Human Rights’ youth blogger Jenna Schulman.  Jenna is a high school  student in Washington, D.C. 

New Asylum Bar Takes Effect

New Asylum Bar Takes Effect

A new regulation by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice seeks to bar asylum to people who enter or attempt to enter the United States at the southern border if they do not first apply for asylum in at least one other country through which they traveled.  The Interim Final Rule published July 16 took immediate effect and allows only 30 days for public comment.

The new asylum bar is the latest in a series of actions designed to limit access to protection for refugees. The federal government has engineered a crisis at the southern border by starving the system of adjudicatory resources while exponentially expanding the capacity to detain people arriving in search of protection from persecution or torture. The government has used this engineered crisis to change unilaterally and without debate asylum eligibility rules.

The Advocates for Human Rights is deeply concerned about this restriction on the fundamental human right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. We are reviewing the regulation and monitoring its impact on our clients. Volunteer attorneys should watch for practice guidance and should reach out to The Advocates’ staff or consulting attorneys with questions.

What does the new rule do?

The new rule establishes a new mandatory bar to asylum for people who enter or attempt to enter the United States across the southern border if they did not apply for protection from persecution or torture in at least one third country through which they transited on their way to the United States.

Who does the rule apply to?

The new rule applies to anyone who enters or attempts to enter the United States at the southern border on or after Tuesday, July 16, 2019. This rule does not affect people who entered before July 16, 2019, or who enter or attempt to enter at other ports of entry.

Are there exceptions to the new rule?

There is a very limited exception for people who demonstrate that they are a victim of a severe form of trafficking in persons.

How can I help?

Speak out.

Comments to this rule, identified by EOIR Docket No. 19-0504, may be submitted via the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov.

Call your congressional representatives at 202-224-3121 to ask them to protect the right to seek and enjoy asylum.

Volunteer.

We urgently need attorneys to represent asylum seekers. No immigration law experience is needed. You will get the training and support you need. Click here to get started.

Interpreters and translators make representation possible. Click here to help.

Human rights monitors are needed to observe immigration court hearings. Click here to learn more.

Donate.

The Advocates for Human Rights provides free legal help to more than 1000 victims of human rights abuses, including asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, and people in detention. We need your help now more than ever. Please click here to give.

Holding Abusive Employers Accountable

The Advocates is celebrating a victory at the state legislature this year! We are part of a coalition fighting to protect workers’ rights that helped pass a new law criminalizing wage theft.

Labor trafficking is closely linked to labor exploitation such as wage theft or dangerous working conditions. In certain industries, exploitative businesses routinely refuse to pay workers what they are legally owed, avoiding liability through subcontracting, misclassifying employees, and threatening retaliation if anyone complains. Traffickers take advantage of this environment of impunity, coupling exploitation with coercion and control that keeps their victims trapped, unable to stop working.

Press conference introducting wage theft bill 2

A key component of a system to prevent and identify labor trafficking is a robust response to labor exploitation, eliminating the environment where traffickers can operate undetected. As The Advocates discovered in our report Asking the Right Questions, our system for responding to labor exploitation was not doing enough to combat abusive employers.

The Wage Theft Coalition was formed to end this environment of impunity and this spring worked with Representative Tim Mahoney to craft legislation that corrects some of the shortfalls of current laws. Many hearings and negotiations later, the bill passed and Minnesota now has one of the strongest wage theft laws in the country.

Hearing on wage theft bill

Some highlights of the new law:

  • Wage theft can now be criminally prosecuted like all other theft. If an employer steals from an employee, they can face up to 20 years in prison. Even small amounts, like a withheld last paycheck, can trigger jail time and fines.
  • Retaliation against employees for making a complaint is specifically prohibited and subject to fines of up to $3000 per act.
  • The Department of Labor has expanded investigatory powers and the clear legal authority to collect all wages owed, not just minimum wage or overtime.
  • Workers must be provided notices when hired that list all the details of their pay including any deductions, as well as more detailed earnings statements with each paycheck.
  • Workers have a substantive rights to the payment of all wages and commissions on a regular pay day.Press conference introducting wage theft bill

Senior Researcher Madeline Lohman testifies before the MN Senate Jobs Committee on the link between labor trafficking and wage theft. She called for strengthening the current bill, SF 1816. Here are some key things she presented to the Committee:

Enhanced criminal and civil penalties for wage theft can help deter traffickers. I welcome Senator Pratt’s creation of a gross misdemeanor for wage theft, but would encourage the creation of felony wage theft provisions to allow prosecutors to match the gravity of the crime. Labor traffickers steal tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars from their victims. In no other context is a theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars a gross misdemeanor and not a felony; it should not be one in the workplace.

Labor trafficking is a serious crime that inflicts lasting harm on its victims, undermines legitimate business, and imposes costs on all of us. We have an opportunity today to strengthen Minnesota’s response to this egregious human rights abuse. Please continue to strengthen the penalties against employers that commit wage theft so that traffickers can no longer operate with impunity.

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Senior Researcher Madeline Lohman testifying before the MN Senate Jobs Committee

Learn more about the new law here.

Thank you to everyone who supported these efforts and we look forward to continuing to improve Minnesota’s protections for workers and response to labor trafficking and exploitation!

Take Advantage of Volunteer Opportunities with The Advocates This Week

Take Advantage of Volunteer Opportunities with The Advocates This Week
For more than five years, we have seen children and families fleeing for their lives seeking safety in the United States. They face increasing challenges to receiving due process and navigating the asylum system. Yet many have found their way to Minnesota, with hopes of finding legal services, language access, and a welcoming community. By engaging pro bono attorneys and other volunteers, The Advocates for Human Rights is the largest provider of free legal services to low-income asylum seekers in the Upper Midwest. You can get directly involved in supporting asylum seekers in Minnesota.If you have legal or language skills, you can volunteer by taking a pro bono case, assisting with interpreting and translating, or by staffing the National Asylum Helpline.
60787894_10157094501063815_5749581936431464448_n (1).pngOur annual interpreter training is tonight from 5-7 pm. Info and registration are available on our website: http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/annual_interpreter_training.html
A general volunteer information session is on Wednesday, June 26: http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/volunteer_orientation_4.html Attorneys can register
Attorneys can register to receive more information about providing pro bono services: ttp://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/asylumattorneys
If you are a community member interested in welcoming asylum seekers to our communities, consider attending the next Asylum Support Network meeting on Thursday, June 27 from 12:00 PM to 1:30 PM (CDT) at the North Regional Library (1315 Lowry Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55411). The topic will be Asylum Seeker Sponsorship. Katharine Gordon, as the Pro Bono Coordinator for Al Otro Lado, works with people who are in immigration detention throughout the country and who might have a better chance of being released on their own recognizance if they had a sponsor and network of community support. While Al Otro Lado has worked mostly with people who are detainees, sometimes sponsorship situations fall through once a person is released, and at that time folks may look to a wide variety of alternate sponsors throughout the country. Katharine has facilitated such sponsorships here in the Twin Cities. Come join us and learn what the different levels of sponsorship are and how you can be involved in extending hospitality and support to newly arrived asylum seekers.

2019 Human Rights Awards Dinner Volunteer Awards Recipients

2019 Human Rights Awards Dinner Volunteer Awards Recipients

The 2019 Human Rights Awards Dinner took place on Thursday, June 20 in order that we might celebrate the work of our organization and the contributions of the volunteers who make this work possible.

We all have a role in achieving respect for human rights around the world. For all of our work we rely on the expertise and commitment of volunteers. They represent asylum seekers and ensure laws and policies reflect human rights principles. They research and write reports and provide interpretation and translation services. They testify and submit statements to the United Nations and other international bodies. They facilitate trainings and serve as court observers. They welcome visitors and clients and assist with office work.

Volunteers are integral to our success. They expand our impact and build the global human rights movement. Thank you for helping us thank them. Please see below for more information on this years’ amazing volunteers!

Pat Brenna

Pat Brenna’s creativity in using her skills to support human rights is an inspiration. Pat is a business development consultant as well as a benefit fundraising auctioneer. For the last 11 years, Pat has designed and led the fundraising efforts at the Human Rights Awards Dinner, helping The Advocates raise essential funds to support our work. As human rights activist and actor Mike Farrell remarked about her work at the 2012 Awards Dinner, Pat is relentless. Before Pat brought her expertise to The Advocates, our awards dinners brought together hundreds of people for a fun evening with amazing award winners. There was no opportunity at the event itself for the assembled friends to financially support The Advocates’ work. Pat helped The Advocates see the fundraising opportunity and over the years the Fund-the-Need presentation has become a favorite part of the evening. Pat is currently business development director at Brainier Solutions, a developer of learning management systems for businesses and nonprofits.


Charles Weed

Whenever anyone seeks out information about The Advocates for Human Rights, they see Charles Weed’s tremendous contribution to our work. Charles is our website guru. He designed The Advocates’ first website in the 1990s and has maintained it pro bono for over 20 years. Charles lends his expertise to The Advocates on nights and weekends, through weekly maintenance, regular updates, and a couple of complete overhauls (including one in progress now). Charles is a software designer for Urban Planet Software in St. Paul. The Advocates is grateful to Urban Planet as well; they help keep our website up to date by sharing newly developed modules and tools when they become available through their work. Charles, for his part, approaches his work for The Advocates with patience and grace. Over these many years, he has helped us balance what we think we need with what we really do need, and has worked tirelessly with staff and interns to keep the site working reliably.


Judy Corradi

Judy Corradi has been a volunteer with The Advocates’ Women’s Human Rights Program for many years. She first started volunteering in the office and helping with a variety of research projects. In 2018 Judy traveled to Geneva, Switzerland as a member of our UN advocacy team. She jumped in right away and helped make contacts with delegates to the Human Rights Council and then organized meetings with them. Judy joined The Advocates at the UN again in 2019. She helped to prepare and present statements to the UN Human Rights Council about the death penalty and the status of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She also testified at the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women about challenges
facing women in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Judy’s remarkable research, writing, and presentations positively impact human rights around the world. We are very grateful that she shares her skills with us. Judy is a retired financial industry professional, having spent 38 years in the commercial insurance sector. She is also involved with a number of other local organizations, including Women’s March Minnesota, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Minnesota DFL. In her free time, she serves as an ESL tutor with Language Central.


Alena Levina

Alena Levina has served as a volunteer with The Advocates for several years, translating and interpreting between Russian and English. Originally from Belarus, Alena has used her native Russian language skills to facilitate the extensive work of The Advocates in countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. The Women’s Program provides analysis and commentary on laws addressing violence against women. Alena has translated those laws from Russian into English, and then translated back into Russian the advice and documentation from The Advocates. Alena’s awareness of the subtleties and nuances of the Russian language helps ensure the effectiveness of The Advocates’ work. Alena’s work isn’t limited to translation. She also served as an interpreter when our International Justice Program hosted a Russian-speaking group of LGBTI activists. Alena ensured that the group felt welcome during its visit to Minnesota. The Advocates is deeply grateful for Alena’s unique contributions to human rights work. Alena, in turn, is “honored” by this work. “It takes my breath away. The more I work with The Advocates, the more I realize that when we all come together, that’s when change happens. That’s why I do this.”


Dr. Charlayne Meyers and Steve Woldum

Long-time friends and neighbors Char Myers and Steve Woldum volunteer together on Mondays in The Advocates’ development office. They hand-address event invitations, write notes, and make calls to thank donors. They also file the many papers that flow through the office, and generally do whatever is needed. And they do it all with so much positive energy that we often receive thank you calls for their thank you calls. One donor was so appreciative of receiving a call that wasn’t a request for money that he made an additional donation! The behind the-scenes support they provide to the organization is invaluable. Char is a long-time educator with the Minneapolis Public Schools and Hamline University.
She enjoys the conversations she has with donors; she gets to hear their appreciation for the work of The Advocates, an appreciation she shares. Char loves alphabetizing and baking pies, including and donates a “perfect pie crust lesson” to The Advocates’ silent auction. She and her husband, former Board chair Sam Myers, have dedicated their time and energy to The Advocates for Human Rights over many years. Steve comes by his telephone skills from experience; he worked in sales for many years. He is a passionate advocate for women’s rights and ending human trafficking, and is proud of the work of The Advocates. When he’s not volunteering, Steve is outdoors, likely sailing or canoeing in and around the lakes of his hometown of Minneapolis.


Zonta Club of Minneapolis

Zonta envisions a world in which every woman is able to achieve her full potential. In such a world, every woman has access to education, health care, and legal and economic resources. In such a world, no woman lives in fear of violence. With more than 29,000 members in 63 countries, Zonta International advances the status of women around the world. Members volunteer their time and talents to participate in service projects, advocate for women’s access to civil and economic opportunities, and raise funds to support scholarships and other programs.
In 2016, the Zonta Club of Minneapolis selected The Advocates as its beneficiary for the following two years. Members learned about the challenges women refugees in Minnesota face. The Zontians selected and purchased large bags and filled them with much-needed winter accessories, towels, and other supplies. They also included information about Minnesota, the Twin Cities, and available resources. The assembled bags were then distributed to refugee and immigrant women receiving legal services from The Advocates. The Advocates is grateful to the Zonta Club for its partnership and support.


Somali 92 Team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On December 7, 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attempted to deport 92 men and women to Somalia. The plane departed Louisiana for Somalia, but was grounded in Senegal, where it remained on the runway for 23 hours before returning to Miami. For almost two days, the men and women sat bound and shackled in an ICE-chartered airplane. People aboard the flight reported truly horrifying conditions. Even more alarming, ICE planned to deport them before any investigation into the mistreatment could be made.
The Advocates joined colleagues at the University of Minnesota Law School’s Binger Center for New Americans, the University of Miami School of Law’s Immigration Clinic, Legal Services of Broward County, Americans for Immigrant Justice, and the ACLU in seeking an injunction. When a federal judge in Miami ordered ICE to stop the deportations, provide medical care, and provide an opportunity to reopen the underlying deportation cases, the need for large-scale pro bono mobilization was clear. Working with colleagues at Americans for Immigrant Justice in Miami, The Advocates recruited pro bono attorneys from around the United States to file motions to reopen. Pro bono attorneys fought throughout 2018, and continue to fight, to reopen cases and win protection from deportation forthe people who had been aboard the flight. The Advocates recognizes and is grateful for these extraordinary volunteers.

Eritrea and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: A Step-By-Step Guide to United Nations Advocacy

Eritrea
The Government delegation from Eritrea at the 125th Session of the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva, Switzerland on 12 Mar 2019 [photo credit: UN Web TV]

Eritrea, a Sub-Saharan African country nestled between Sudan and Ethiopia with roughly the same size and population of Minnesota, is the center of alarming human rights abuses. Despite ratifying its Constitution in 1997, the government has not implemented that framework and instead retains a one-party dictatorship. The president, Isaias Afwerki, and his security apparatus have disregarded civil liberties and basic human rights, arbitrarily detaining people, holding detainees without due process and in inhuman conditions, mandating national service, and applying systematic torture both in prisons and national service facilities. Members of non-authorized religions face persecution.

In the face of grave human rights abuses, civil society has a powerful weapon: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). A State Party to the treaty since 2002, Eritrea is bound to its reporting and accountability measures. As an NGO with special consultative status with the United Nations, The Advocates for Human Rights works with U.N. mechanisms to hold States accountable for wrong-doing. And at the 125th Session of the Human Rights Committee, The Advocates did just that.

Introduction to the ICCPR Review Process

The first three steps in the ICCPR review process take place before the parties meet in Geneva. First, the State Party submits its report to the Committee. Eritrea failed to submit its report to the Committee, so it was more important than usual for civil society stakeholder reports to give a full picture of human rights in the country. Second, the Committee prepares a list of issues and questions for the State Party to consider. Third, members of civil society—referred to as “stakeholders”—compile reports of the country’s progress and failures in improving the state of civil and political rights since the previous review. Compiling information from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. Department of State, recent U.N. investigations, and interviews with clients seeking asylum from Eritrea, The Advocates made sure that the Committee knew what the Eritrean Government was doing.

The primary accounts provided by our clients are some of the most important aspects of any report we submit to the United Nations. First, staff and interns in our Refugee and Immigrant Program interview asylum clients, detailing their experiences with human rights violations in their country of origin. When that country comes up for review at the U.N. Human Rights Committee, our International Justice Program staff and interns identify patterns in the client files that help describe the human rights situation. These unique experiences inform a more complete understanding of the State Party under review. We include that information in our report after receiving explicit permission from the clients in question. These client interviews confirm and illustrate the information that secondary reports provide about the State Party’s human rights practices.

Recommendations and Constructive Dialogue

In response to the bleak state of civil and political rights in Eritrea, The Advocates also suggested recommendations for the Committee to present to the State Party in order to improve its human rights practices. The Advocates makes several recommendations, such as to allow international observers to monitor the condition of Eritrean detention centers, to narrow the scope of the death penalty in the Penal Code, and to eliminate the registration process that creates “non-authorized” religions.

After receiving reports from civil society and the State Party, the Committee engages in a constructive dialogue with the State Party. During the dialogue, Committee members recognize the progress the State Party has made and recommend improvements and reforms for the State Party to adopt.

To watch the full constructive dialogue between the Human Rights Committee and the Government of Eritrea, click here.

During the review of the State Party, NGOs such as The Advocates can take several actions to promote their reports and recommendations. They can make oral interventions before the examination, participate in informal briefings with Committee members, and circulate shorter versions of their reports—one pagers—that highlight the most important points.

Concluding Observations

After State Party and stakeholders have had their say, the Committee compiles and releases its Concluding Observations on next steps that the State Party should take to improve its human rights practices. In the case of Eritrea, the Committee’s report adopted many of The Advocates’ conclusions and recommendations for:

  • holding human rights abusers accountable;
  • ending arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and the use of torture;
  • improving detention conditions;
  • ending severe—sometimes lethal—restrictions on freedom of movement;
  • improving conditions in national service, shortening the length of national service, creating alternatives for conscientious objectors, and ending the placement of minors in national service; and
  • guaranteeing freedom of religion.

With the report of the Human Rights Committee in hand, it is once again the duty of civil society to hold the government accountable and pressure Eritrean leaders to implement these recommendations. In the meantime, The Advocates will continue to offer asylum assistance to Eritreans fleeing the ongoing human rights violations.

To read our full report on Eritrea, click here.

To learn more about advocacy at the United Nations, read Chapter 9 of The Advocates’ groundbreaking publication, Human Rights Tools for a Changing World: A Step-by-step Guide to Human Rights Fact-finding, Documentation, and Advocacy.

To support our mission of advancing global human rights, consider volunteering with The Advocates.

Watch our volunteer, Olivia Leyba, testify at the U.N. Human Rights Council about Eritrea’s human rights practices.

 

By Benjamin Allard, International Justice Program intern and 2019 graduate of the University of Minnesota, where he majored in Political Science and Asian Languages & Literature.